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Women have a 'bitch-switch,' says telecom CEO

Technically Incorrect: José dos Santos, the CEO of Cell C, South Africa's third-largest telecom company, makes a serious gaffe. Even the company's own computer systems object.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


dossantos.jpg

Jose dos Santos, CEO of Cell C.

ANN7/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

There seems to be a lot of conversation currently about politicians playing "the woman card."

I fear, however, there isn't enough conversation about male authority figures playing the neanderthal-in-suit-saying-something-ignorant-about-women card.

You might feel the latest example is José dos Santos, CEO of South Africa's third-largest telecom company, Cell C.

In an interview last week with radio station Cliff Central, he offered his thoughts about women in the workplace.

He said that "a lot of women are independent. They bring up the kids by themselves, they are financially stable. But somehow we've failed as a nation to empower them."

His thoughts were especially appropriate as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development issued a report just two weeks ago that said South Africa has the highest number of skilled African women leaving their country.

Dos Santos was at pains to indicate, however, that his company hires many women.

"We have good-looking women, we have clever women, we have smart women," he explained.

Some might see this as an interesting delineation of categories. Dos Santos wasn't done in his description of women in his workplace.

"They just have a different way of managing, they have a different way of engaging meetings and engaging with parties and it creates a different dynamic," he said. "If I can use the term on your radio station, women do have a bitch-switch and, boy, if you see two women fighting, it's worse than two men having an argument."

You might imagine that Dos Santos paused whether he should have used the word on this radio station. Sadly not.

He also explained that he offered contestants in the Miss South Africa pageant internships at Cell C.

"I mean, can you imagine, you've got 12 gorgeous women and say four, five of them walk into your company," he said. "Do you know what it does to the atmosphere in that company, the men dress better, they shave every morning?"

And what do the women do?

Not everyone was impressed with Dos Santos verbal enterprise. For example, writer Annie Brookstone tweeted: "Dear Cell C CEO, I think my 'bitch switch' is broken. Do I have to wait for my period for it to activate? Thanks, Female in the workplace."

It was only after such reactions that Dos Santos seems to have realized what he said.

"I really want to say that I absolutely apologize if I have offended anyone," he told South Africa's Eyewitness News. "Clearly a lot of people have been offended, and it's a situation that I regret very much. It's one of those things where this kind of language cannot be tolerated in society."

I contacted Cell C by email and asked for the company's reaction. I also asked whether "bitch-switch" had some local nuance that wasn't readily understood in the rest of the world.

I received an immediate reply from the company's system administrator: "Content Policies Triggered: -- Policy (Profanity Check) found term [1 regex bia?tch\b] in subject, score is 1 Number of hits for this term: 1 Matched text: BITCH- Policy (Profanity Check) found term [1 regex bia?tch\b] in body, score is 1 Number of hits for this term: 1 Matched text: BITCH."

Ah.