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.