The Exception Becomes The Perception
The realm of business today is global, not just local or national. When we set out to discover what people thought about business networking, we focused on business people but in a broad cross-section of the world. Over a three-year period, more than 12,000 business people from every populated continent in the world participated in a survey about gender and business networking, the most comprehensive survey of its kind ever conducted. The survey was split almost evenly between men and women (50.2 percent men and 49.8 percent women). In their answers to the objective questions, men and women were not light years apart, as might have been expected. They mostly agreed, often quite closely, on the practices, values, and experiences of networking. The differences were often times small, although statistically significant. No controversy there.
Then came a little surprise.
The final question on the survey was an open-ended one:
Do you have any story about networking between men and women that you would like to submit for possible use in the book? If so, please describe.
Nearly 1,000 participants responded. And what stories!
When given the opportunity to say something personal about their networking experiences, 545 women and 403 men revealed strikingly different perceptions. Despite their fairly close agreement on the objective questions, male and female business people seemed to live in two different worlds. Many of the women wrote of feeling undervalued, intimidated, ignored, overshadowed, or patronized. Others told of sexual harassment as shown here:
“I sometimes feel as a woman it is hard to be taken seriously by some of the business men.”
“As a young marketer, anytime I approached a member of the opposite sex, even when dressed conservatively and speaking only about business, they thought I was interested in dating. I didn’t get too far with business.”
“One of the first “gentlemen” I met said, “Sorry, I didn’t catch your name, I was too busy staring at your breasts.”
Some men had negative things to say about the women they met and worked with, shown in the comments below:
“I can recall a particular woman that would frequently attend networking meetings dressed for attention. This men at the event who were attending with their spouses feel very uncomfortable.”
“When networking with women I find myself trying not to offend.”
“I actually feel more comfortable networking with the opposite sex. I feel women working with women are more competitive.”
“I especially like working with men. It’s more direct with less ‘fluff.’”
Similarly, quite a few of the men said they enjoyed working with women:
“As a male it is easier for me to network with a female. With women there’s no ego issue.”
“I feel women are better networkers. Sometimes we men are more interested in handing out cards and talking business while women are more intuitive and like to listen. I always get more responses from women after I meet them at a social or business function.”
However, almost all of the respondents, even those who had positive comments, told us how differently they viewed men and women approaching the art of networking. Most seemed to agree that in networking situations, men were more focused on business and women on relationships.
“As a sales trainer, I’ve noticed that men ask for the sale much more readily than do women, who need additional coaching in this area. I’ve witnessed this phenomenon for years.”
“It may sound sexist and completely contrary to all equal opportunity laws, but if I wasn’t able and willing to be flirtatious with people, I don’t think I’d be as successful as I am.”
In their comments, men often cited the different networking styles of men and women but, on the whole, felt women did as good a job networking as men, or better. Their difficulties with women had mostly to do with not wanting to appear sexist.
Why did the opportunity to comment about the gender differences unleash such a strikingly different torrent of opinion?
In a phrase, we believe: The exception becomes the perception.
There’s more to come with Business Networking And Sex (not what you think)!