The article reminds me of a conversation I had with a German who just moved to the States. He is not used to, or even a bit annoyed by the way Americans interact with each other. At the surface, you feel that everybody is nice and friendly; but eveything stops at the surface, leaving you a feeling that it’s all kind of fake. The example he gave was, when he shopped at Walmart, the cashiers greeted him pleasantly. He was like, come on, I don’t think you feel that happy to be a cashier, especially at Walmart, why don’t you show some attitude?! I laughed when I heard it. I can understand what he meant, after all, I grew up in a city where strangers don’t smile at each other, even when they are not yelling at each other. :)
Anyway, it’s interesting to see that Americans, at least people in the corporate world, are taking this a step even further…
Nancy Camarota, a customer-relations executive at Allied Waste Industries Inc., said she thought it was odd when a Deloitte & Touche USA LLP consultant used an exclamation point in an email. “Guys do not use exclamation points,” she thought. “Is he making fun of me?”
She later learned the email reflected a new Deloitte strategy to approach women clients differently than men. Among other things, Deloitte is training consultants to sit across from women at a table, rather than next to them, and to bring subordinates to meetings because women value knowing the people who do the work. In the case of the exclamation point, Ms. Camarota had used one in an earlier email; the Deloitte consultant says he was responding to her enthusiasm as part of the new program.
The strategy is based on a simple, yet radical, idea: Just as women consumers shop differently than men, Deloitte believes businesswomen shop for professional services differently than men. “You need to understand where women are coming from,” says Cathy Benko, a Deloitte partner who runs the program.
Ms. Benko started exploring the issue while researching ways to retain and attract female employees. She teamed up with TrendSight Group, a Winnetka, Ill., consulting firm and after interviewing senior women executives and Deloitte employees, they concluded that the same discovery process women use when doing personal shopping applies to purchasing business services. A woman might go into a store for black pants, for example, but then see something else she likes and buy that, too, or change her mind. Men just buy the pants.
“Men think, ‘She’s so fickle’,” says Ms. Benko. But “she’s not fickle at all — she’s using this process of discovery.”
Deloitte began offering four-hour workshops on gender differences to its employees last year. Among its other suggestions:
Don’t be frustrated if female clients reevaluate or modify their initial requests; because they discover as they shop, women may be very receptive to suggestions about other services.
Women clients want to know and trust their consultants personally as well as professionally; sharing personal details can help build trust.
Women often prefer business lunches to dinners, because they tend to have more responsibilities at home. And they may be more receptive to evening social invitations if asked with sufficient time to make arrangements at home.
Body language differs by gender. Men tend to stare as they listen and nod to signify they understand. Women may nod when they don’t yet understand to encourage the speaker to keep talking. And while consultants often seat themselves beside a male client as their “right hand man,” women are more comfortable seated face to face.
There’s no doubt that Deloitte has to tread carefully. What some clients might see as sensitivity, others could find patronizing.”It’s a great idea to pay attention to women as a people of influence,” says Meryle Mahrer Kaplan, a vice president at Catalyst, a research and advisory group on women in business. But “if stereotypes seep in there, that’s not helpful.”
Denise Fedewa, a leading researcher on women’s buying habits at the Leo Burnett advertising agency in Chicago, says, “My first gut reaction is, ‘Yeah that makes sense.'” But she adds that she would like to see research backing up the theory. She also questions whether such gender differences apply as strongly among younger workers. “It might be less true with maybe the generation of women that are just coming into those positions,” she says.
Tapping into women’s professional psyches has become more important as more women become corporate decision makers. While women remain scarce at the top of major companies, they occupy about half of all managerial and professional positions in the U.S., including 37% of the management jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They are also 41% of purchasing managers and 60% of accountants and auditors. “We’re interacting with women more, and they’re in real decision-making roles in our clients,” says Tim Hanley, a Deloitte partner in Milwaukee.
Companies such as American Express Co. and International Business Machines Corp. target women business owners with such tactics as sponsored conferences and networking events, but they say they don’t systematically pitch women differently than men.
Deloitte rival Ernst & Young LLP is also advising employees on how to take women’s sensibilities into account, offering courses and speakers on such topics as gender differences in communication styles.
Ms. Benko says Deloitte doesn’t have statistics on whether the approach has won new business, or on how many of its clients are women. But she says attendees have told her the training has helped them.
Jonathan Copulsky, a Deloitte consulting partner in Chicago, was initially skeptical of the idea. “We make such an effort . . . trying to ignore some gender differences in terms of how we treat people,” he recalls thinking. “This seems to be a step back.” But he changed his mind after attending a workshop and putting some of the training to use while working with Ms. Camarota, who manages customer issues for Allied‘s corporate, municipal and residential customers.
Ms. Camarota says she wasn’t sure what to make of Mr. Copulsky’s treatment. He told her he couldn’t meet in person immediately because a family issue was keeping him in Chicago. “I was like, ‘Whoa,'” she recalls. “Consultants don’t do that. They say, ‘I have another appointment, I have a conflict.'”
When they did meet in person, Mr. Copulsky let Ms. Camarota lead the conversation. Normally, he says, he’s quick to propose his own ideas. But facilitators at the workshop had suggested listening and asking questions first.
During another discussion, two more-senior Allied executives dropped in to suggest their ideas. Mr. Copulsky listened, but he didn’t give their ideas more weight than Ms. Camarota’s. That scored points with her. “As a woman, as a decision maker, if guys come into the picture, they’re generally deferred to,” she says. “I didn’t get that from Jonathan.”
Mr. Copulsky says he was following the workshop’s teachings that women sometimes interpret experiences differently than men and believe they are being slighted because they are women. As Ms. Benko explains, a man and a woman may each be treated rudely by a car dealer. A woman would say “he treated me like that because of my gender, and men would say he treated me like that because he’s a jerk.”