I remember the first time I realised I was invisible.
I’d been a CEO and MD of a specialist and quite large advertising agency – for a very long time. I was sold, without my knowledge, by my erstwhile mentor and owner, to our direct and fiercest competitors. I stayed on for four years, learning, watching, being overlooked. My new owners didn’t see me. Didn’t see the point in having a female with an opinion about good or poor client service. Didn’t see their greedy, eye watering, ‘at-all-costs’ profiteering and the pointless macho board room jockeying …yadder yadder.
So I was let go. It was Christmas – I was a bit lost.
An old friend and captain of his particular industry, invited me to a glittering Christmas bash; full of potential contacts, high net worth business owners and with a guarantee of a place next to him at the top table. His invitation and endorsement were warm and welcome and designed to cheer me up, get me out and may be help me into my next role.
My very first conversation was with a man to whom my friend introduced me by offering just my name. The man’s first question was ‘and what do you do’? I opened my mouth, ready with the usual line that I was MD of xxxx ad agency, when, just as the words were coming out I tucked in; ‘used to be’ in front of my job title. True, I had not thought it through, but I will never forget just how quickly the light in his eyes died and how rapidly he raised his gaze to look over my head at the rest of the more interesting room.
I was furious and cut up. I vowed then and there to never ask anyone ever again, what they did as a job as a way of finding out more about them.
And as we face, potentially the most uncertain economic time in living memory, with unemployment, redundancies and costs cut to the bone, we all need to be mindful that what we do, isn’t necessarily what we are.
And as customers and clients we would be well advised to remember that too. Next time you are in McDonalds complaining that the barbecue sauce isn’t in the bag, just remember; that man and that woman is doing his and her job. They are dealing with your rudeness every day. They may be under-graduates or single parents. They may just love doing what they do – or have no other choice, but beyond the name badge they are just the same as you.
It has never been so important to not judge people by the job that they do.