Startup Founders Called Her ‘Hot’

January 26, 2015

2:30 pm

Three years ago, Alyssa Dumond started working as the director of operations at a Portland startup led by two men. But she realized quickly that something was wrong.

“We would complete a huge project, and everybody was giving each other a high five and kudos for completing a job well done, and in the next sentence they’d say ‘Oh, you look hot today,’” recalls Dumond, who is married.

They also asked one employee, an ex-promotional model, to wear a bikini in a company ad, sipping champagne on a boat with one of the cofounders. (She refused.) The startup provided a virtual receptionist service for customers, and, curiously, all the receptionists they hired were women.

Dumond left after nine months, unable to stand the work environment and having taken a hit in self-confidence.

“There were days that I would go into work and not know whether I was going to be treated as the professional or whether I was going to be treated as the ‘baby girl.’ Those things take a hit on you,” she says.

Dumond went on to set up her own virtual assistance business, but the sexism didn’t go away. After quoting prices to clients for years, she started to notice a disturbing trend: while female clients either hire her or don’t, male clients sometimes take the opportunity to scoff at her prices.

She recalls one prospect, whose attitude changed completely after she quoted her rates. “He very quickly said to me, ‘You’ve gotta be crazy. Nobody is going to pay you what you’re asking for. If you cut that down by 1/3, you might find a person or two that would be willing to pay you those rates.’ [It was] very cocky, almost like a light switch went off in him after this great two-hour conversation,” she recalls. “It made me feel like, ‘Am I really doing the right thing by being on my own if I’m going to have to constantly overcome all these hurdles?”

Where does she stand today? Dumond is finding her confidence despite the catcalls, the disrespect, and the rejections. She is the captain of her own ship, and it’s her choice whom to work with now.

At that first startup, she was constantly asking for a raise (that never came) as her job description expanded. A few months ago, that same startup hired her as a contractor – at three times the price. To her, that was symbolic.

“Putting your foot down and saying, ‘I’m more than a female and I have these skill sets,’ in the end that sense of accomplishment does come back,” Dumond says. “It’s just sad that I couldn’t earn their respect while I was there.”

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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