A Business Dinner Gone Bad

Beef_round_top_round_steak_in_pan,_raw

“Men Succeed More Ably in  Business When Women are Involved”

It was a traditional event, conducted during the thick of an out-of-town trade show: dinner hosted by my magazine for a favored client. Our new publisher agreed to be present but obviously had done no homework.

It never occurred to him that to have the attention of a major advertiser—represented by senior executives and ad-agency reps—would provide an opportunity to make his magazine look good…or that having his magazine’s editorial director at the table would backstop him in providing convincing insights into his publication’s buoyant future.

Instead, we were as though marooned on a raft.  My publisher had almost nothing to say, and his advertising-sales director was similarly mute. The clients’ guys talked to each other, barely acknowledging our generosity. Maybe this would be an early evening, after all, I thought.

Then someone told a joke, a pretty crude one. Then someone else tried to top him—more bawdy bathroom wit. We were being served an elaborate and beautifully prepared meal in a hotel dining room, but the talk at the table was quickly sinking to the lowest level of toilet humor.

How to stop it?  The publisher, my boss, probably could have redirected the conversation and tried to elevate the tone, but he didn’t. I don’t know that he enjoyed what was being shared, but he did nothing to stop it. He even added to it, though not very deftly.

I looked around. There were a dozen of us seated at the table, enjoying our steaks and savoring our wine. We were strangers. Also, we were men, and for unfathomable reasons we seemed unable to relate to one another without resorting to sharing the foulest possible stories.

Why were we an all-male table?  My magazine had mostly female readers, but in those years women still had low- to mid-level jobs, in both sales and editorial.  The men who brought in the business did so not by stressing how valuable our magazine was but mostly by hustling their clients off to dark bars where they could drink themselves surly and watch near-naked pole dancers slither and shake.

When that ugly dinner finally ended, and all of us went our separate ways—I don’t think that “traditional” event ever occurred again—I replayed the evening in my head, desperate to discern how it had gone off track. Finally, it was my wife who nailed it. “That meal would have been different,” she believed, ” if even one woman had been seated at the table. Even if she had said very little, I feel certain that your dinner-table conversation would never have taken such a wretched dip.”

The truth is: men succeed more ably in  business when women are involved.  They help keep us honest, professional—and clean.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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About Mervyn Kaufman

A consumer-magazine writer, Mervyn Kaufman is the author most recently of The Shamrock Way, the history of Arizona's biggest and most enduring food-service company, and coauthor of the Gary Stevens memoir, The Perfect Ride.

Comments

  1. This sounds like the exception to me. I frequently am involved in male-only dinners. We have no problem having a great time making intelligent and funny conversation. No ugly toilet humour. It’s a bit offensive to imply that’s not possible unless women are present.

  2. Have to agree with Ryan, this sounds like the exception rather than the norm. To be honest, I’m also quite taken aback that you believe women keep us more professional and honest, seriously?

  3. In my experience, if there is one woman in a group of bawdy men that she doesn’t know very well, the men continue to maintain the “upper hand” in the group. If they want to make dirty jokes, that’s what they’ll do, and the woman will just be uncomfortable. The situation is the same if one man is in a group of a dozen loud women he doesn’t know – he’s going to be very, very quiet. :-) I think only a much more evenly divided group will actually result in everyone behaving themselves.

  4. Merv Kaufman says:

    I don’t know that it’s not possible for a men-only business dinner to be professional and productive, but I do think that strangers at a meal table do interact better when women join the group. Women seem more adept at breaking down social barriers—so there are fewer awkward silences—and men seem uniformly better behaved. Granted, the incident I recalled in my essay was extreme (as well as unpleasant), I have been at more than one men-only business dinner that was so stiff that I ended the evening with a sore jaw from clenched teeth. Similarly, women-only business meals are often chaotic rather than communicative. In my experience, balance is best.

  5. Eagle35 says:

    OP: “The truth is: men succeed more ably in business when women are involved. They help keep us honest, professional—and clean.”

    Merv: “I don’t know that it’s not possible for a men-only business dinner to be professional and productive, but I do think that strangers at a meal table do interact better when women join the group. Women seem more adept at breaking down social barriers—so there are fewer awkward silences—and men seem uniformly better behaved”

    Pedestalizing women are we? Can I play?

    “If women ran the world, there’d be no war”

    “Mom’s are the better, stabler parent”

    Seriously, I thought we were supposed to treat women like human beings instead of the sole paragons of virtue.

    • Hell yeah, roll on out that Domestication Narrative! Remind us of how those cleeeearly superior women are just burdened with civilizing us brutish ruffians.

      There very clearly must be a gigantic conspiracy in place to keep men in power, it’s the only way such base creatures could manage to even compare to their moral and intellectual superiors.. perhaps we should call this grand conspiracy “The Patriarchy”.

  6. “The truth is: men succeed more ably in business when women are involved. They help keep us honest, professional—and clean.”

    The obvious message, then, is that men alone are not professional or honest or ‘clean’.

    This is taking the current trend in misandry a bit far, don’t you think?

    It is obviously an absurd statement. The problem now is that the idea that men are intrinsically inferior is taken to such extremes that it turns into self-parody – and does not help women, either.

    Do the men you work with know you perceive them this this way?

  7. In my experience, Mervyn Kaufman is right. Having a woman present makes some (many, most?) men behave better. This is not pedestalizing women, Easgle35, just observing that the presence of a minority helps make the majority a little more aware of what might be offensive. If men-only business meetings are rare these days, great, and I hope that Laura’s unhappy experiences as the sole woman in a group are not typical. Frat boy and road warrior types might not always behave better in the presence of women, but Kaufman is right. Among the other things I learned in basic training is that men in a world without women devolve into a coarseness that is hard to believe if you weren’t there. I do not know what corollary effect a single man might have in a group of women, or whether it would be good or bad, but I bet there often is one.

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