A husband and wife walk into a business meeting. They each say, “I co-own a business with my spouse.” The business people turn to the wife and say, “How nice that you work in your husband’s company.”
I know, it’s not funny, but I’ve never claimed to be a comedienne.
I am, however, a business owner, most recently of Jones Computer and Networking, which I own 50/50, straight down the middle, equal partners, with my husband. And though the majority of people I encounter in business situations take me at least somewhat seriously as such, I have had no fewer than three people try that terrible punch line on me in the last couple of weeks. They weren’t funny either, but then again, they weren’t trying to be.
My husband is the first to defend my role in the company, ever quick to point out that the “Jones” in our company name refers to both owners, not only the one with a Y-chromosome. He is the first to admit that ours is a company that never would have happened without the two absolutely essential elements of his extensive computer expertise and my comfort navigating the administrative and marketing requirements of business.
Of course, his appreciation and understanding of my role is far more important than the perceptions of those few and far between acquaintances. Still, I can’t help but wonder why, when I can easily laugh off reader mail that suggest the time of a little lady like me would be better served baking cookies than adding my opinion to public discourse, these seemingly innocuous and surely unintentional slights to my business role stick so badly in my craw. Perhaps I have undermined my own reputability as a business owner by being too casual with the conventions of business propriety and pomp; or maybe people make assumptions based on my age. Or maybe, as it seems to be, it is truly a reflection of society’s ingrained misogyny.
In the hopes of teasing out an answer, I have been trying a thought experiment: I have been imagining scenarios in which people might assume that my husband, in fact, works for me when we announce co-ownership. I have imagined him as the younger of our couple, and a role reversal in which I have the technical expertise while he manages the business itself. I have imagined myself in masculine, starched suits, and even in business with a completely and obviously inept man. But nothing seems to inspire a reverse, though equally flawed, conclusion except, just perhaps, a business in an industry that is traditionally considered “women’s work,” like nursing or child care.
I freely admit that this whole issue is intimately linked with my ego. Business ownership offers an amazing learning opportunity, and I take great pride in having developed from a new business owner who felt faint every time I had to give my elevator pitch, to a person who feels confident throwing my two cents into many business discussions. Ultimately, though, I can’t help but believe that these comments aren’t made in reaction to me as a person but to me as a woman.
I can offer no inspired insight to conclude this column; with most rights and perceptions of minorities in