BE Conference 2019: Of course, Shabnam Mogharabi was sitting in her quiet office at the time
When SoulPancake co-founder and general manager Shabnam Mogharabi and Rainn Wilson were pitching their media company to investors three years ago, Mogharabi said she encountered a startling moment of sexism while on a business call with a “a very, very large media company.”
You can watch the clip above.
“There’s this weird noise going on in the background,” Mogharabi said of the call with the company’s board, which consisted of “all white men over the age of 65.”
“So one of the men from the board goes, ‘Hey, uh, Sha- Shabnam? Is that you with the vacuum going on in the background? Would you mind going on mute?'” she told TheWrap CEO Sharon Waxman at the third annual BE Conference at the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica.
“And I go, ‘I’m in my office right now, it’s very quiet. It’s not me,'” she continued. “And another guy goes, ‘Oh, sorry… that’s me. I’m gonna go on mute. I’m working from home today — that’s the housekeeper in the background. Sorry about that.'”
It was in that moment, Mogharabi said, that she realized that business relationship wouldn’t work out.
“He called out the only woman on the call and assumed it was a vacuum. All of my leadership team is women. I can’t do a deal with this company,” she said. “Now, they did make an offer — it was a terrible offer, we wouldn’t have taken it anyway. But those are the kinds of things that would happen.”
(Mogharabi and Wilson wound up selling SoulPancake to Jeff Skoll’s Participant Media in 2016.)
BBC America executive director Courtney Thomasma shared a similar sentiment during the BE Conference panel.
“Growing up, I never felt that girls had more challenges than boys to accomplish anything,” she said. “I never saw there being gender inequity until I got to corporate America… it was a rude awakening for me and something I didn’t think really existed.”
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