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Good news: I have just signed an important business deal and it should keep me going for a while, which is just great. My decision to leave the Corporate world was therefore the right one, at least for the next year or so. But everything wasn’t as straightforward as I initially thought. Whether you are in France or in the UK, some things never change: as a woman, especially in a male dominated environment, you are simply not taken seriously.
As you know, I had even considered having an experienced guy with me to make my business look more “normal” for future clients -they expect the boss to be a man, that’s just the way it is. I thought of my grandfather – he is 87 but looks easily 25 years younger, but the time of the signature of the deal was in the middle of his nap and, even well-briefed, my grandfather is a bit of a risky choice -he can’t stop talking about his life. And he doesn’t speak English or understand cultural differences.
It was too late to brief anyone anyway. As usual, I was in my own, on my way to my lawyer to sign this important contract. It didn’t go as well as I had planned. At least initially. My client was also there, with his lawyer, and wanted to change all the clauses we had already discussed and negotiated. Funnily, the first question they asked was: “Are you on your own?”. It must be difficult for them to accept to do business with a woman…life is full of challenges, I suppose…Tough.
I had thought this meeting was only going to be a formality, just to sign the last draft of the service agreement (my business is about Facility Management) and start some collaborative working. How wrong and naive of me. To make matters even worse, the babysitter was only staying until 6 pm and I needed to head back home really soon. French babysitters are not very flexible. I didn’t want to give in and had no time to re-enter into lengthy negotiations. I felt stuck. Emotions were running high as well behind my polite and composed face: why did I leave my boring but safe Corporate job again?
My client’s tactic was the usual one. All the good clauses were completely ignored, and they wanted to re-negotiate terms of payment, prices, etc…basically, his lawyer and him wanted to change the balance of the deal.
After 45 minutes discussing things that had already been discussed at least twice before, I decided to stop everything. I had to go home anyway -I wasn’t going to stay any longer for them, this wasn’t going anywhere. Other potential clients had also expressed an interest anyway. I told the other party that the deal was on the table here and now, as it was. Not a comma would be changed. They had until the end of the day to sign it or go back home without an agreement. In short, take it now or leave it. Then, I stood up and left my lawyer’s office. Everybody was stunned. That’s not something I usually do.
I received a phone call from my lawyer shortly afterwards. They had signed and paid the first term of payment. They even apologised the following day (they didn’t mean to upset me and thought that they could still negotiate…the usual excuses) and now we can work together without any problem. They feel that I am passionate about my business and they like it (I can also see that they believe I am a bit mad and they mustn’t upset me. They are a bit scared now, which is brilliant).
I can’t help thinking that they wanted to take advantage of me. They wouldn’t behave like this if I were a guy.
All those years, I tried to tone down what I felt. Now it seems that I need to do the opposite. Next time, I will not even spend 45 mins listening to them. Mental note to self: need to toughen up.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London