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FutureNow Article
Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2007

Are Stereotypes Keeping You From Understanding Female Customers?

By Holly Buchanan
August 7th, 2007

they always get sprinkles...Even the most enlightened among us stereotype. We all have certain thoughts, beliefs and biases ingrained in our conscious and, more importantly, in our subconscious.

Are stereotypes keeping you from truly understanding your customers? I recently wrote about a study of “Alpha Males” which made some conclusions about the study participants based on their behavior. Yet those conclusions about the participants’ motivations may have been off-base.

I was recently intrigued by two insightful articles which examined stereotypical attitudes toward women. In this New York Times piece by Brent Bowers, Women Take Off the Gloves and Come Out Multitasking,” Mamasource.com sent out questions to their 100,000+ members. One of the questions was “whether a woman with children should start a business and, if she did, whether she might run the risk of neglecting her family .”

Good question. I mean, that’s why most mothers don’t start a business, because they don’t want to neglect their kids and family, right? Right??

Wrong. The response was overwhelming. Here’s what Brent found:

First, if you start a business in your home, you’ll be spending more time with your children than if you commute to an office. “With my first child I worked 50 to 60 hours a week, going back to work when he was 6 weeks old,” said Karen Tuscano, owner of Hands Free Baby in Fulton, Del., a seller of baby carriers, most of them made by work-at-home moms. Now, she is always “there” for her 12-year-old, 20-month-old and 6-week-old, she said.

Raising children while running a business pays unexpected dividends. One woman says her teenage daughter has been helping her out from the age of 4 and the experience not only brought them closer but gave the girl “a sense of doing what needs to be done, being independent and being accomplished.”

Finally, starting a business is fun. “All the women I know who work in their own businesses — and I know a LOT of them — LOVE it,” said Ms. Dallal, the music studio owner. “Also, no one is firing them.”

Mothers are starting their own businesses in record numbers. And they’re loving it. I hear from them all the time. Surely there are some mothers who don’t want to start a business for fear it will cause them to neglect their family, but this stereotype ceratainly does not hold true for a large percentage of mothers.

In another article in the Washington Post, “Salary, Gender and the Social Cost of Haggling,” Shankar Vedantam takes a look at a study that shows men are more aggressive than women in asking for a raise. The natural conclusion seems to be that we need to train women to be more assertive. But is that really the right answer?

Although it may well be true that women often hurt themselves by not trying to negotiate, this study found that women’s reluctance was based on an entirely reasonable and accurate view of how they were likely to be treated if they did. Both men and women were more likely to subtly penalize women who asked for more — the perception was that women who asked for more were “less nice”.

“What we found across all the studies is men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not,” Bowles said. “They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum. But it made no difference to the men whether a guy had chosen to negotiate or not.”

Ah, yes, our biases are alive and well — in both men and women. When you’re trying to get to know your female customers, at least entertain the possibility that you may have internal biases and stereotypes at work. Make an extra effort to break through stereotypes to fully understand who she really is.

Ask her honest questions and get ready for honest feedback, even if it isn’t what you expect.

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Comments (10)

  1. Hi Holly-

    I read that exact same article in the Washington Post and had one of those “Its about time someone figured that out!” moments. But it also made me wonder if this whole ‘equality’ thing is truly possible.

    To share a recent inequality experience- I received a direct mail piece from a water softner company. Free water test! Great- I have well water, I have been researching systems and wanted to know what their system will cost- I want to know more! I send in the card, they dutifully follow up with me and schedule an appointment in my home- stressing to me that both homeowners need to be present. I think that this makes sense since we would both need to sign off on the installation and did not think much of it.

    The very product knowledgable sales rep comes to the house and proceeds with explaining minerals in water etc etc. I will not tire you with the details as he was so clearly determined to do with me. The point is that he would stop every 15 min or so through his “speech” to ask me where my husband was. I knew that my “husband” (I am not married) would have very little patience for this speech and would be annoyed to have to sit through it. I replied with this information, and also added that I already understood the concepts and technology of his product, I simply wanted to know installation info, warantee info, and COST! He dutifully ignored this, asked where my husband was again, and completely ticked me off by further asking if my husband was ok with me making this type of decision. Yes- those were his actual words.

    Yet still I sat through his presentation, finally got to the point that we could discuss what I was interested in. And low and behold, the “husband” appears in the kitchen- and he goes throught the whole presentation again. And when my “husband” asks for the price- he tells him! Imagine that! The decision maker must be here now so we can share this precious information.

    Needless to say, I (yes, I made the ultimate decision) bought the water system after making the sales rep cut his own commission to lower the total price by a third. The moral of the story- I only did that because he ticked me off, I needed the system, and if he had respected my wishes and intelligence I would have been willing to pay the higher price- no haggling required! And I will not refer him to anyone- no matter how happy I am with the product.

    So to all you sales reps out there, men and women- remember that stereo typing will cost you real money!!!!!!

  2. Carole,

    Great story. I have had similar experiences.

    It makes you wary. I was not happy with my irrigation system company and wanted to switch to another to do the maintenance.

    Sure enough in my mailbox I get a letter from a company announcing they have clients in the neighborhood and were offering a special deal for new customers. (all on the outside of the envelope)

    Terrific! I thought. Sign me up. I was really ready to give these folks my money.

    Until I opened the letter.

    It started out “Dear Sir”

    That was it. I didn’t even read any further. Those two words told me I could expect the same kind of treatment you got. (I may or may not have gotten that treatment – but customer perception is reality)

    Had they said “Dear homeowner” or “Dear Lawn Lover” they would have my money right now.

  3. We have found that mothers start their own businesses because they want to CONTROL their lives their way. The mothers who start the businesses to suit who they are, to fit into their personal lives, and that allow them to fulfill their passions and priorities on their terms achieve remarkable success rates. They get to have their life back and remain the mothers they want to be, become their own boss, and escape the rules and expectations imposed by the corporate world.

    We have assisted hundreds of mothers to start and succeed at the businesses of their dreams. One thing that many mothers overlook is that they already possess the experience, the knowledge, and most all of the skills to easily transition into becoming successful business owners, BECAUSE they are mothers. But most mothers are not aware of this. Once they recognize their true talents and capabilities, only the sky is the limit.

    Mothers can read about the wonderful profession of Motherhood to learn more.

  4. [...] Future Now, we always caution people to be careful not to use this information to stereotype. While individuals operate from each of these [...]

  5. Regarding the mentioned article in the Washington Post, “Salary, Gender and the Social Cost of Haggling,” Shankar Vedantam takes a look at a study that shows men are more aggressive than women in asking for a raise. The natural conclusion seems to be that we need to train women to be more assertive. But is that really the right answer?

    In our office, that myth could be totally dispelled – because on average the female loan originators as a group consistently outproduce their male counterparts – and to accomplish that takes true assertiveness.

  6. Stereotyping is a natural human phenomenon. This is not to say that it is “correct” to stereotype, however for the most part it probably is done on a subconscious level. I see it quite frequently in my leasing office where a male client would rather deal with a male agent on a lease deal, but would rather receive a coffee from a female. I have also been in a situation where a raise is more readily given to a male lease broker rather than a female lease broker.
    As mentioned in the above comment, even though the male may be perceived as more “career driven” or “capable” the female leasing agents almost always outsell their male co-workers.

  7. As a female truck driver stereotyping is all too common. Just because I`m a woman and I move freight for a living, doesn`t make me incapable. I can move just as much freight as any guy, but they can`t seem to see that!

  8. The pay gap between men and women is widening because girls are still being stereotyped into the careers they should pursue, according to an official report.

    The Women and Work Commission has criticised the Government for failing to encourage girls to choose non-traditional jobs and called on it to do more to promote quality flexible and part-time work.

  9. What about the fact that sometimes women can sell more. I sell trailer generators, and I find that I have an advantage because I’m a woman.

  10. Great blog. About time someone put it like that!

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Holly Buchanan is a marketing to women consultant specializing in marketing to women online. You can read her blog at http://marketingtowomenonline.typepad.com She is the co-author, along with Michele Miller of The Soccer Mom Myth - Today's Female Consumer - Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys.

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