How Sophie deals with sexism in the automotive industry, which is an eye opener and pity the poor soul who had the audacity to grab her bottom at a networking event!

Listen to her story here Being a female in a male dominated sector

Neil Foley:                           Hello everybody, it’s Neil Foley from the Business Growth Club. I’m really pleased today to be talking to a lady I’ve known for quite a while, Sophie Cator, from Cator Family Cars. Good Morning Sophie. How are you?

Sophie Cator:                     Good Morning Neil. I’m very good, yourself?

Neil Foley:                           Very well, thank you. What we’re going to hope to achieve today is to look at what it’s like to be a female working in a very much male-dominated environment. We’re into cars as we said, and if I talk you through were we are at the moment, we’re in the office department for the unit, so we’re in Bunwell or are we near Bunwell?

Sophie Cator:                     We’re between Bunwell and Spooner Road, just off the main road, so nice and easy to find.

Neil Foley:                           Easy to find, it’s blowing a gale so it’s freezing cold, so we’ve got our gloves and hats on, but it’s a working unit. Let’s kick off then, Sophie, and let me ask you just a very open question, what’s it like being a female working in what is traditionally quite a male-dominated sector?

Sophie Cator:                     It’s definitely very interesting. I’m quite a strong personality, so I can generally hold my own, but you also have to learn to occasionally roll over and pretend to be a docile female, because a lot of the men that are in this industry, you know they’ll say, “All right sweetheart, drop it off there lovely,” and you just have to take it as it is because that’s the way the world works.

Neil Foley:                           I mean, is that a generational thing, I mean is there an age..

Sophie Cator:                     It probably is generational, like the local garage we work in conjunction with, the gentleman there is 70, and he doesn’t mean to be, but he is the most sexist person you will ever meet. He’s like, “Haven’t you got to go home and cook his tea yet?” I’ll be like, “Nope, I’ve got paperwork to do, cars to sell, and I pay his wages,” but you know I can have a laugh with him about it, but he is of that generation.

Neil Foley:                           Do you think he means it, or is it a jokey-type thing?

Sophie Cator:                     I think he means it, but not in a malicious way. I am just a young woman, I’m 33 but I probably don’t look it, and to him, I’m like a little girl out of college and you know he sees me like that, but it’s not being personal, it’s not rude. That’s just how he sees someone who looks 12 years old a woman.

Neil Foley:                           How do you, as a woman then, differentiate, or can you differentiate between somebody who it’s just a generational thing, he doesn’t mean it, to somebody who actually has got more of an edge to it and is, actually I really don’t like this, how do you deal with that?

Sophie Cator:                     It really depends on the context of the situation. If it was a customer, then invariably I have to sell cars, because that is what feeds our children, that is what supports our lifestyle, so very occasionally, you just have to smile sweetly and use the rude words inside your mind instead of out of your mouth. If it’s something that’s worth standing up for, so perhaps a business disagreement, or when someone is perhaps talking down to me, I will say it straight, because don’t talk down to me, I’m a grown woman, I’m a director of my own company, and I’m multitasking, and I make better coffee than you.

Neil Foley:                           How often does it happen then, how often do you end up thinking … I guess, how often do you inwardly swearing and thinking, “Ugh, you toe rag,” and outwardly being nice, because that’s what sales is all about, isn’t it?

Sophie Cator:                     It is, not that we sell here, we build relationships here, but incidentally, the cars sell themselves. The way I deal with it, like I’ve been to a lot of business meetings and you’ve got the men in suits, and they usually are all of a certain age or of a certain perhaps profession, you know accountants, solicitors, quite well to-do people who have studied hard and their missus, their wife is going to feed six children and let him go to the whisky club. It really does depend on the context, but I will say something. I took someone out of a meeting the other week, because he had the audacity as he overly affectionately kissed me, hugged me, and then slapped me on the bottom.

After 20 minutes of internal seething in anger, I actually asked him to come out into the hallway, and gave him a verbal dressing-down, and I must confess, I told him if I he did it again, he would be missing some teeth.

Neil Foley:                           Good lord, I mean I’m staggered that, I mean as a male, I’m not necessarily the most self aware male, people are actually still doing that in terms of thinking that’s acceptable behaviour, to pat you on the bum?

Sophie Cator:                     Worse than that, this person was in a profession that advocates behaving yourself, so therefore their kind of profession is telling people not to do that. I mean, the person apologised profusely and he really won’t be doing it again, but it shocked me so much that actually it took me 20 minutes to kind of talk to my female business people, and I was like, “Actually, do you know what? I’m really really angry about this.” I was so angry that I was shaking, and you men think we’re crying, we’re crying tears of rage.

Neil Foley:                           I mean, that’s extraordinary, isn’t it? As they say, “In this day and age.” You’ve painted the picture of, “Some people just don’t get it, or maybe they never will,” who knows, I mean as you know, talked to Ola before, and it’s the same with racism and people not being accepting. What’s it like just in the automotive world though, because that is male dominated, isn’t it? Do you think you get an edge?

Sophie Cator:                     I think it helps, because when we have a lot of female customers, I will always generally deal with the women when I’m here. I will generally deal with most of the customers, because Steve is the skilled part of the business. If Steve had been a builder or a plumber or whatever, we would have still gone into that business. He’s always the one fixing the cars, which means I’m the one making the coffee, talking to the customers, playing with their children, talking to their grannies for three hours on end, because that’s what builds relationships. Depending on the customer, I can decide whether to show my knowledge, whether to roll over and play dumb, whether to see how good my coffee is versus what I know about the cars.

In the industry in general, because businesses get to know everyone, the local businesses are more polite about it, because I’m like, “Oh, hi so-and-so from this business, it’s Sophie from da-di-da,” because you’ve got a relationship, but I guess if you’re going to go to a cold provider, then they may well not take to me as well as the people who already know me.

Neil Foley:                           It’s quite a small world, by the sound of it, the automotive world, in terms of you get to know people and the rest of it. You’ve touched on an interesting point there, because rather bizarrely, you would say that you’re not a salesperson, although I would argue that you’re probably very very good at sales, but you don’t need the label because you’re talking about building relationships. If a husband and wife were in here, who do you deal with?

Sophie Cator:                     I go to the couple, I myself will go to the couple and see who they are and how they are and how they react.

Neil Foley:                           That’s an interesting point, Sophie, because I know one of the classic mistakes, because my wife runs her own business, is an independent, strong-minded woman very similar to yourself, and people make the classic mistake whenever we’re out where the male, if it’s a male salesperson or advisor, will always talk to me.

Sophie Cator:                     It is frustrating, I mean I’ve had a similar circumstance with regards to property. Basically, my husband and I do a little bit of property together, and I’m the one that does the cashflow forecasts, I do market research, so I put together a whole presentation pack, and we had this funding gentleman over, myself, my husband and this gentleman. Every time the gentleman asked a question, he directed it to Steve. Steve would then turn to me and say, “Sophie, do you know that answer?”, and I’d be like, “Yes, I put the pack together. If you look on page three, you’ll see,” and this guy still kept referring everything back to Steve. This is one of those moments when I was smiling, but inside it was like potty mouth.

Neil Foley:                           Why do you think they do that then?

Sophie Cator:                     I don’t want to stereotype, but this guy was a white gentleman probably in his 50’s, in the banking industry, probably started when he was 20, all the women probably wore short skirts and typed his notes for him and made his coffee. Whether he meant to be so misogynistic, I don’t know, but because we needed what he had for the business, I just had to suck it up and put on my happy princess face.

Neil Foley:                           I’m not sure I’ve seen that one.

Sophie Cator:                     You’ll know it when you see it, Neil.

Neil Foley:                           It does surprise me how often people still do that. Have you got any tricks then, you would say, or anything you would say to other women in terms of what should they do in that scenario?

Sophie Cator:                     I would always say, do try and make your point, but if you can make it in a really irritatingly sweet female way like, “Oh, Mr. Banker Man, I completely see what you mean. I just pulled these numbers together for you, but please do tell me how to do my job,” with a slight edge of sarcasm, so you get your point across without being rude, but you’re ramming it down their throat that they basically need to suck it up that you’re a woman and you’re equal to them.

Neil Foley:                           Do you do that?

Sophie Cator:                     I may have done it once or twice when it was called for, but generally my professionalism will kick in before I get to that point. With this particular gentleman, there were some incredibly rude four letter words going through my mind, and once he left, I may have vocalised them to my husband.

Neil Foley:                           That’s what husbands are for.

Sophie Cator:                     Indeed.

Neil Foley:                           I know in terms of, I’ve spent a long time in sales, and often I would find that scenario, and the easy way of deflecting it is just to look at the other person. Have you ever tried that?

Sophie Cator:                     Yeah, if I have a couple in here, and the husband is quite heavy-handed in a paperwork way, hopefully not in the back-handing kind of way, I will always ensure to talk to both customers, because perhaps this gentleman is used to his mousey little wife sitting there meekly, but I’ll talk to him first because he’s obviously the alpha male, but then I’ll talk to her and bring her into the conversation, because if they’re both paying for a car, they should both be onboard with it.

Neil Foley:                           Yeah, no definitely. Let’s look in terms of networking, because I know you’ve done a fair bit of networking, as indeed I have. What’s it like being female in a networking environment, which again tends to be male-dominated, doesn’t it?

Sophie Cator:                     It does, it is generally quite male orientated. In my previous example of the gentleman touching my bottom and getting told off for it, most men are quite respectful, just quite modern, I mean it is the 21st century, so you can network, but it is still heavily male orientated, particularly if you’re networking from different businesses. You’ve got your builders, your plumbers, your electricians, as well as your accountants and your solicitors, it depends on what type of industry they’re in as to generally what they’re like with women, it’s almost like stereotypes.

It really just depends, but I generally just put myself out there. I’m generally quite outgoing, as you can tell, and then people either will or won’t connect with me. Then if I know I’ve got someone quiet, whether they’re a woman or a man, I’ll try and lower my volume, but I’ll still be me, just in a slightly less scary format.

Neil Foley:                           Yes, because you don’t want to change who you are, or your personality. You surely can, but you can’t do it for very long, can you?

Sophie Cator:                     No. It’s not about changing your personality, but I think every person out there is multi-faceted. For myself, I generally try to present the chirpy outgoing Sophie. There is also a, “Oh dear God, get me a coffee,” Sophie or, “I didn’t sleep last night because of the children,” Sophie, and the, “Oh my God,” Sophie, but they’re still me, but it’s learning which face do you present to certain people to meet their faces, you know what’s going to interact best.

Neil Foley:                           You have to be good at reading people, do you think even more so as a woman?

Sophie Cator:                     I think women are generally more intuitive. From my point of view, I feel that I can generally read people, and I can walk into a room, and you know you can cut the tension with a knife, you walk somewhere and you know what the atmosphere is like. I think it’s important to be able to read people, it’s not just body language, it’s the tone of their voice, how loud they are, what they’re dressed in, the way they present themselves. You do have to modify yourself slightly, because one size doesn’t fit all, you can’t put a square peg in a round hole, so therefore you need to gently adjust the square peg, but it’s still a square peg, it might just have slightly rounded edges.

Neil Foley:                           You think women are better at that than men?

Sophie Cator:                     In a majority. You can’t tar everyone with the same brush.

Neil Foley:                           No.

Sophie Cator:                     You know, women are as different as men are, but I think because of our natures and the fact we’re generally seen as the caregivers and the multi-taskers and things, we are more used to doing things on a different level. The fact I can do six different things, not particularly well, but I can do them, I guess it’s easier for me to blend or mould myself as to the situation.

Neil Foley:                           Do you still believe that this multi-tasking is a female strength? Because I’m not entirely convinced, I think it might be a myth.

Sophie Cator:                     I think it’s probably a myth. I can multi-task, I can do six different things, and I’ll get really angry, I’ll be like, “Why didn’t you reply to my email?”, and I’ll go to my email and realise that I did 95% of it, but didn’t press send. I can multi-task, just not particularly effectively.

Neil Foley:                           That’s probably a good answer, isn’t it. If you were having your time again, I know you’re only 33, did you say?

Sophie Cator:                     I’m nearly 34.

Neil Foley:                           If you had your time again, what would you do differently?

Sophie Cator:                     I think in my younger years, I would have been more outgoing. I was quite quiet as a child, actually, and then I was loud and loud and loud, it was a front that I put on. In the end, I faked it so long that I’ve made it, you know it is one of my sides, and it is a predominant side to me, but I experienced a lot. As a young person, I was in accountancy myself before this began, you know when I first started my job when I was 18, straight out of college, the guy, just a boy, a male, who started the year before me in exactly the same role, was paid 1,000 pound more than me, and that is pure sexism there and then.

My boss at the time was a very strong character, northern character, women were generally in their place, I was sent off to make the tea and do things like that, and just the bare fact that he paid his man employee 1,000 pound more than me for the same role and the same qualifications kind of says it all.

Neil Foley:                           You were aware of that at the time?

Sophie Cator:                     I had access to all the filing.

Neil Foley:                           What did you do about it?

Sophie Cator:                     Nothing, because I shouldn’t have been looking in those files.

Neil Foley:                           True, but did you stay there very long?

Sophie Cator:                     I stayed for as long as I had to, because I was training in that position. I actually incidentally left that position, and I left it so that I shouldn’t have had to have paid anything back, but because of the strong personality of that boss, and the fact that I was quite meek and mild, I still ended up paying back some money, even though I shouldn’t have had to legally, because I felt pressured and guilted into doing it. Now, I’d be like, “Seriously? This is a contracted date, I’ve fulfilled my obligations, we are past the contracted date. You pay me peanuts, you can have the shells back.”

Neil Foley:                           Bullying is a factor of being female, in certain environments, not everywhere?

Sophie Cator:                     In certain environments. It can come across as bullying. Whether they think they’re bullying, or whether they just think they’re being a bit blokey, sometimes they cross the line and it’s about being able to say, “Look mate, here’s the line, shove off over to your side of it.”

Neil Foley:                           You would have been stronger?

Sophie Cator:                     I think it’s less about if I had my time again, and if I could talk to my younger self, you know if I could sit down and put an arm around my younger self and be like you know, “All these kind of really rubbishy things are going to happen to you, but the positive is, you’ll come out like me.” That is a good thing, honestly, and kind of say to 18-year-old Sophie, “Be polite, be professional, but don’t take any crap,” excuse my French.

Neil Foley:                           No, that makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

Sophie Cator:                     It is about, you know if you could ever go back and talk to yourself, I think you would learn so much from yourself, but they say hindsight is a wonderful thing, should have picked those lottery numbers.

Neil Foley:                           It’s the most precise science in the world, isn’t it?

Sophie Cator:                     It very much is.

Neil Foley:                           Well, it’s been really useful, Sophie, and I really appreciate your time, and I hope people have found this interesting. Certainly a female perspective in terms of what it’s like to be in still very much a male dominated world, not just in the automotive industry, it’s true in financial services and all sorts of different issues. It’s been really interesting, hope you’ve enjoyed it, thanks very much for listening and share it. We’ll put Sophie’s website address at the end, so that you can see it there when you look online. Thanks very much, and until next time, goodbye.

Sophie Cator:                     Thanks for having me, bye.