“[I]t seems like people respect a man’s boundaries more, and it’s easier for men to say no and for others to accept that ‘no.’ ”
— Eva Saha, emcee
While speaking to my colleague Aayati about some of my methods, I mentioned that I love asking my clients to call me by my first name. It’s not usual in Poland, where much of my work takes place, to be so informal so quickly in business settings— but I enjoy it. I think it helps me set up the kind of free-flow that I like in my professional relationships. Aayati said that it sounded nice but if she were the one in my position, she would probably do the same on a case-by-case basis. As nice as it is even in her book to set up that tone of ease, she would be wary of who she was interacting with—women are often not taken as seriously as men, and then there is the consideration of that invisible line beyond which a woman is seen as being flirtatious or leading someone on. I couldn’t believe it! Surely, it could not be this maddening to be a woman in the industry? But then I remembered my friend @Kasia had said that she would not feel comfortable being addressed on a first name by a client. So, from the conversation between me and Aayati came the seed of an idea which we have turned into this short series of articles. Does gender-bias make itself felt in the work? Or is there some invisible bias that can be felt by some but its causes are not that clear? Here is a part of the conversation that happened between Eva Saha and Aayati. It’s been written down post-conversation and then edited for better flow.
Eva Saha interviewing Alex Rodriguez virtually
Eva, as you know I’m trying to dig into the biases that exist in the events industry. I’ve been reaching out to a few emcees to ask them about their experiences. So, how has it been for you? Do you feel you have had to curtail yourself as an event host/emcee because you are a woman?
In my former life as a corporate and securities attorney, I faced a lot of discrimination and bias. But that was a long time ago when conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion were almost nonexistent. Partly because of the age we are in, and partly because of the nature of event hosting and moderating, I actually believe I am celebrated for what I can uniquely bring to the table. And that includes being a woman and a woman of color. Maybe my experiences as an attorney prepared me to fight discrimination and bias and to forge ahead. But no, I don’t feel like I have to alter my persona or my actions in my current role. Instead, I bring to the job my true and authentic self, and I feel like my clients invite and appreciate that.
I understand. So, would you say that because of the way you made your way into this work, you haven’t noticed any discrimination in your personal experience? It can be at any level—pay comes to the top of my mind.
Oh, yes. I once worked an event for a company with whom I’d already had a sustained and successful work relationship. Four people were hired to give daily presentations on the company’s new innovations. In addition, I was chosen to make the big product reveal to open the show.I found out that one of us, a man, was getting paid $100 more per day than me. In my mind, based on my longstanding relationship with the company and the fact that they had chosen me to do the all-important product reveal, I should’ve been paid at least what my male counterpart was being paid. So, I went to my agent to talk about it and she—yes, she was a woman—basically told me not to compare my rate to the man’s, and to be grateful for what I was being paid. But it wasn’t a matter of rate; it was a matter of my worth. Was the company willing to pay? Turns out they were. When I inquired, I found out that my colleague’s agent had just quoted his rate while my agent had asked for a lower rate. And it was not just her. I also hesitated in even asking about the discrepancy. I hemmed and hawed about whether the company had the budget to pay me more, if it was appropriate to ask after the fact, etc., whereas my colleague just asked for what he knew he was worth, with no emotion attached.
Eva Saha with a panel of bankers in New York
Yes, there’s this tendency in women to be less assertive than men. So the things that a man can do much easier, like ask for the salary they want, a woman would put in much more thought into before even broaching that topic—
Yes, and there are other things that, in general, a man doesn’t have to deal with that a woman does. There’s this societal image of women as selfless caretakers. So sometimes that translates to clients not respecting boundaries. For instance, I have on occasion been asked by my clients for more of my time without an expectation that I should be paid for that time. It’s possible that my male counterparts have experienced this as well. But in general, it seems like people respect a man’s boundaries more, and it’s easier for men to say no and for others to accept that “no.”. And respecting boundaries is also sometimes an issue with attendees. You won’t normally see people being as romantically forward with a male emcee as with a female. It doesn’t happen often, and it’s most certainly not an issue with my clients, but there have been times when men have disregarded professional boundaries, and approached me or given me that look that’s hard to put into words but it makes you uncomfortable—sometimes it’s a challenge to what I’m saying, and sometimes it’s a romantic approach. And of course then I think, did they really mean it that way? Am I perceiving it correctly? Or did I do something to bring this on?
Exactly. You know I believe this is a part of our cultural conditioning. Women take on a lot of responsibility even for things that are not their responsibility. You said something right now which I find interesting and it’s interesting because this kind of self-doubt is not reflected generally in a man’s use of language. When you feel uncomfortable, you feel uncomfortable for a reason. There’s no reason to doubt that discomfort but often women do. You aren’t saying every man’s gaze is making you feel uncomfortable but there is of course something in a particular gaze that creates discomfort. But yes, it’s hard to put into words what the thing is and women of course take this route of doubting themselves. That’s how I see it.
You are absolutely right. That is quite insightful. In general, I believe men are more outspoken and assertive than women, especially in work settings. Maybe it’s cultural influences and societal expectations that have created this difference in men’s and women’s behavior and I know it’s not just in the events industry. But things are changing. My current agents are amazing. I know they have my back. I always feel supported. And they invite me to stand up for myself and for me to share my feelings so they can represent me as best as possible. Nowadays, I feel more empowered to communicate my feelings with them on any given matter, and when it comes to rate and conditions of employment, I leave the “dirty work” to them.
Eva interviewing author Suneel Gupta
[This interview was conducted and edited by Aayati Sengupta.]