Gender Bias Can Disappear in the Face of Competency

I kind of expected a response to last month’s Good Old Girl Network column that would sound like the theme song from the movie, “Nine to Five.” Not so, but I have received some very interesting comments from successful companies on the distaff side; with few exceptions those comments are probably not what the “dear me folks” will like hearing.

The consensus among female CEOs, senior managers and other top operatives was that they did not regard the resistance to sales presentations or management procedures as gender bias but rather as the result of inadequate preparedness or presentation. Yes, of course, there will be those who act or even make distasteful or derogatory comments, but those can almost always be traced to people with whom you don’t want to do business anyway. Are there advantages to being a woman in certain business circumstances? You bet your pantyhose there are. I would much rather be selling against another male when competing for a kitchen project with a woman client. Given that everyone’s competency level is reasonably good, women have a huge advantage there (in my opinion). Even with a married couple the scales still tip that way. I think the reason behind this is the assumption that there is a natural rapport among women and it is easier to expand on, woman-to-woman. But broaden the project to a comprehensive addition or work that involves structural and dirt trades like excavating, then the balance will tip to the “seat-up” side. Men are more traditionally identified with the bulldozer set. Again, this has far more to do with tradition than knowledge, given that homeowners tend to make multi-thousand dollar decisions regarding remodeling without so much as checking a single reference on the contractor.

In my own very unscientific poll, I asked several women entrepreneurs to choose between having a male or a female boss, equally competent, and the male boss for the female manager won out across the board. The reasons given me had more to do with the perceived male tendency to be more predictable, solution oriented and decisive. None of the company owners over-generalized but seemed to feel when having to make the choice the male side might be more predictable — and predictability was very, very important to those who responded to my questions.

Everyone seemed to think reading and understanding the premises made in the best selling book Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray would help the issue of gender bias. A wonderful speaker and author named Pat Heim spoke to the Remodelers Show some years ago in Atlanta. She told how a woman wanting a black dress for a party might spend hours at the mall selecting just the right thing and then spend even more time selecting shoes and a purse. On the other hand, a man having an assignment to buy a black dress for his spouse would go to the mall properly armed and dressed in camo down to his skivvies, stalk the dress store from down wind, spy one that looked trophy worthy, shoot it and drag it home over his shoulder as a successful kill. Both completed their assigned missions but with quite different procedures, equally confusing to the other gender.

Yes, there is gender bias — but it is not all directed at women, nor is it all bad. Gender bias, it seems to me, is far more tenable than racial bias and, I would hasten to add, more easily overcome. Before we brand something as gender bias and assume it is insurmountable, let’s focus on the target. I believe most competent male entrepreneurs have no problem whatsoever being fair, attentive and receptive to a presentation by females. Just don’t act like a female; act like a salesperson, a representative, supplier or consultant. If you know your stuff, sooner or later you’ll find your niche and succeed, but don’t cut the price to get it because price loyalty is only as deep as a dime is thick, while you’re here...

P.S. — This is my 48th column and thanks to your comments and mail, it is only going to get better. Thank you readers, one and all. Here’s to a great 2010. Sincerely, Mike.

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