In a world in which women often find themselves competing hindered by habits and models unsuitable for their way of working, they are forced to submit to inadequate rules and mechanisms to express their talent only in part, as if he were a forced sportsman to play wearing shoes of the wrong size.
This is the problem that affects the success of women (but also that of many men) at work, so it is necessary to modify the conventions and “manufacture shoes of different sizes” to improve the professional performance of people, with great advantage for companies in the which ones work.
The last 6.2 miles that stop women
Training allows a marathon runner to run the first 20 miles with relative ease, but athletic training is not enough to cover the fateful last 6.2: you need mental strength and a real desire to do it.
In large companies, gender equality stops at the last stage, represented by top roles, especially those in the heart of power: the area of business development. At the peak, in this sector, women are extremely few.
Of course, this happens because women, more than men, are concerned with maintaining a good balance between work and family. But the truth is more complex: it is not easy for women to participate in activities that combine with the development of a company’s business, such as golf or other sporting events.
The methods used by men to promote the company’s business and commercial development do not easily adapt to the female universe.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the division of labor between those who find customers and deal with them and those who actually produce the good emerged. A new way of success is defined, due to the ability to be at ease as a customer finder.
Today, companies hire more women and many of them climb the first step of the pyramid, but they do not receive any incentive to advance further: the summit does not suit them, it is a pair of shoes that does not fit comfortably.
The difference between one size and right size
Objectively, women are less successful than men in acquiring and retaining customers. This is because the main model of commercial development was designed by men for other men, at the time when women in power were not even talked about.
In other words, the difference between male and female results is not due to a difference in talent and ability, but to the difficulty in freely expressing one’s skills.
Let’s take the story of Nicole, now one of her company’s 20 best sales managers. Thanks to a shooting teacher, Nicole understood that she, a woman, could perfectly compete with her father and brothers if she had used a gun suitable for her hand, rather than an old family weapon.
So, at work, Nicole has created a real alternative to late evening meetings, attending sporting events, golf tournaments and aperitifs, organizing informal dinners for potential investors at home, during which to exchange opinions and advice . At first, Nicole recalls, her company has resisted this way of proposing itself, but the results obtained have forced its leaders to change their mind.
Know, understand and do
Looking at the differences in the approach between males and females towards commercial relations development work, it is clear that women know the methods to be used, but they do not understand why these methods do not work for them as for male colleagues.
“Knowing” requires knowledge of what works, while “understanding” means finding what works best for oneself.
The consultants who work alongside companies to develop staff potential are in agreement: women need to do something different, but it is difficult to find out what it is.
Participating in activities that help build relationships with potential customers is difficult for women. Since these are mostly meetings organized on the basis of typically male events, women find it difficult to participate in them feeling at ease; if the programs are integrated with more feminine or mixed activities, which also include wives and husbands, it is almost impossible for them to work effectively and not disappear among the chatter of the invited consorts.
The men are also reluctant to let their colleagues accompany them to the meetings: “I know that it is not fair – explained one of the interviewees – but it is embarrassing to enter a restaurant to meet possible customers with a beautiful young woman at your side”.
Focus on superstars or group success
In 2004 the United States basketball team got the bronze medal. The new coach was convinced that the problem was in the composition of the team, since they were all ninety pieces, unable to carry on a truly united and compact game. He redesigned the team until they got 2 times the Olympic gold.
From sport to the business world, the step is very short: the “one size fits all” commonly accepted in the customer network development sector is based on individual successful personalities, almost exclusively male. Thus, companies that are satisfied with a bronze medal can continue to rely on their “business magicians”, but if they want to grow they must replace individual play with teamwork.
A difficult change to induce, since companies tend to put at the top those who achieve the greatest success with customers, superstars, often lacking in real driving skills: it has been shown that the more you have the ability to do something, the less able you are in explaining to others how to do it.
Collaborative feet in competition shoes
Some studies show that most women and men define their style of developing business relationships as “collaborative” rather than “competitive”, but looking deeper, it turns out that over 70% of men would like to be more aggressive, while 75% of women confirm that they are comfortable in a cooperative situation; an interviewee said that “the ranking of those who have brought the most income to the company irritates me […] Sometimes it just seems to work alone in the same office […] When someone completes a great deal, it is easy to notice how false are the congratulations he receives from others. ”
If women and men approach differently, it is perhaps because they are biologically different.
Studies on the amygdala, prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex highlight the possibility of neurological deviation between the two sexes. Women:
- they think with both hemispheres of the brain, gathering and sorting details faster and generating solutions faster;
- they catch the non-verbal cues more easily and promptly;
- they tend to avoid aggressive attitudes and ways of communicating.
These attitudes are supported by the prefrontal cortex, larger in women, which is responsible for making rational decisions with the aim of finding a valid solution for both sides. A reaction very different from the rapid clash suggested by the amygdala, more developed in the male brain.
Consistent with these studies, it has been shown that the working groups in which women are present are more successful: collaborative and cautious, with the ability to analyze risk, together with male impulsivity they create a stable and sustainable long-term system.
The female elements affect collective intelligence thanks to their sensitivity, leading to a more relaxed and balanced atmosphere within the team.
How to switch from one size to the right size
In 2013 Warren Buffet published an article on Fortune in which he underlined the extent of the improvement in the economic sector achievable thanks to a true integration of women at the top of the companies. The difficulties encountered by the women workers are known, but it is preferred to “plug the holes” rather than “build a new boat”, despite a – certainly tiring – revolution in marketing logic which could ensure greater gains in the long run.
To build a “new boat” we identified five areas in the commercial development mechanism on which it was possible to reflect and make changes:
1. Recalibrate your perspective, change what you see.
One technique is to write a story by imagining yourself as the company’s best customer finder. Leave your imagination free, eliminate self-criticism: reading your story you will find new ideas to translate into projects, actions and words. Consider yourself your first customer and commit to making your life easier by giving your best.
2. Refocus your goals, change what you choose.
Choosing to change your goals allows you to face the challenges with renewed enthusiasm; for women it is important to strive to achieve collective success, instead of individual success, obtain customer satisfaction rather than economic income, integrate family activities with work instead of doing overtime in the office.
3. Check your vocabulary again, change what you say.
Some women explained that they were in trouble because “we were working to avoid bankruptcy, instead of preparing for victory.” The symbolic substitution of some recurrent expressions helps to live a situation differently and to obtain different results; a concrete example? Use the open question “How can I …?” instead of the closed one “Can I …?”
4. Readjust your methods, change what you do.
Small ideas can cause small changes which, added together, will make a big change. For example, create a list of activities that allows you to truly be yourself on the basis of which to develop new customer management techniques. Likewise, create a list of places, events and people that make you uncomfortable, so that you can avoid them. A further difference between female and male attitudes concerns the knowledge of one’s strengths and weaknesses. Women tend to be hypercritical, and this plays against them.
5. Reconsider your successes, change what doesn’t work.
- Define your purpose: women prefer to focus on customer satisfaction;
- Keep your team’s statistics up to date, team achievements will turn the spotlight on your methods;
- Make a list of people you trust, who could help in activities that put you in more trouble.
50% of our population is made up of women. The university students are almost 60% of the total. It is absurd that companies are still unable to exploit their talent. Alice Paul, at the top of the United States suffragette movement, described the women’s movement as follows: “Each of us inserts a small stone, and in the end we will have our large mosaic.”