Treating Women Differently


    “Women customers behave differently.” Is this assumption true?

    An article that is no longer available online described a list of the behaviors that derail gender inclusion in organizations. But reading through it becomes evident that they are behaviors that derail effective work, period. Worse, they are behaviors that prevent an organization from serving its customers.

The list is fairly comprehensive. When we work in an organizations where people:

  • Decide not to do an assessment, build a plan, set goals, or establish benchmarks
  • Task a small group of committed, passionate people with designing and implementing a change initiative—and expect them to succeed without a clear mandate, significant resources, intelligent guidance, or visible support from above
  • Start implementation without the support of key people
  • Refuse to assign supervisors specific responsibilities
  • Fail to reward those who follow through
  • Keep quiet about the initiative, allowing it to be perceived as low-priority or to be ignored altogether
  • Let negative talk or obstructive behaviors pass without comment or notice
  • Assume that efforts that are well received in one part of the organization (a mentoring program, employee resource group, or set of educational workshops) will translate seamlessly to other parts of the organization
  • Do the same things again and again, although they haven’t resulted in the hoped-for outcomes

    Morale is low, engagement is poor, dysfunction is high. Which describes much of corporate life in the experience of many. This is the kind of environment where marketers decide women are one demographic, one big category to market to and service as if we all acted, thought, and bought in the same way. A double whammy.

    Women are different from each other as people. Treating women differently as customers based upon gender biases — men and women are different — and stereotyping them as being all the same, continues to reinforce those biases, especially since marketing is about exciting people's emotional reflexes.

    There is a thriving industry centered around marketing to women. In social media, there are women associations and groups like BlogHer and Mommy Bloggers. Yet not only are many of the women in those groups different from each other, I know many women who would not even fit into those categories, including me.

    There are plenty of independent women — married or not — who choose not to have children, for example. Some of them choose to have a career, others don't fit particularly into the career thing, nor they're into having a big family.

    With more voices joining the ranks of creators online, we're seeing diversity between individuals, not genders. Especially as we all embrace a cultural movement that has us reprioritize what we buy, we're all influenced by economical, functional, social, physical, and mental considerations.

    Are women more emotional than men? I would not be able to make this generalization based upon my experience. Do women spend less time online? Again, another generalization hard for me to make given that my work and that of many friends and colleagues centers on social media. 

    If women buy differently as a group, it's likely because they end up buying for the whole family, often dressing children, spouses, and parents. Research shows that women are also responsible for the purchase of big ticket items like homes and cars. We're investors, and in that capacity do watch the brands we invest in — how do they behave?

    Do women warrant a different treatment as customers? Based on mathematics, yes, we should take good care in not treating them as less valuable to a business or brands. From banks and financial institutions to retailers large and small to employers, it's a bad idea to create dis-incentives to do business together.

    Preliminary brain research shows that men and women's brain are different, but we don't have conclusive evidence of how these differences impact our working selves. What we do know is that women remember and recall details more readily. Which is why at home I'm the one writing customer complain notes to zero into the missed business opportunity. It's a science and an art.

    We also seem to have more connections and activity in the corpus callosum. This means we're good at cross-referencing. Many organizations undo on the recruiting end what they overspend on the marketing end, missing investments in the process — and are hardly aware of it. This is the kind of Big Data work that would help some brands understand why they do so poorly on the customer experience end.

    But nobody is looking.


0 responses to “Treating Women Differently”

  1. Yes, and no. I think Banana Republic has proven this axiom to be untrue, but I think they treat women better then us squares 😉 This is with their sizing and unique cuts for women.
    Seriously though, what kind of a fool treats their customer worse, or as more emotional? Winning business is all about respecting the customer, so if you are going to differentiate, you had better show more attention, more service, better customization. Painting products pink is a fools mistake.

  2. Paco Underhill’s new book What Women Want is all about how women buy differently. Considering that women control 80% of consumer spending, it pays to take the time to understand what works to motivate a female consumer.
    One point I make when speaking on this topic is that the majority of women feel advertisers don’t depict them accurately. One contributing factor: only 3% of advertising creative directors are women (myself included). Until we have more women creating and greenlighting creative work, we’ll continue to be subjected to groupthink from a group that doesn’t think the way we do.

  3. Yes the ad world often gets it wrong when they try to play to gender. I noticed the commercials for the new, macho-looking Camaro are fully tailored to men, which might be intuitive….however, at my last movie club night, we all ended up talking about how we were lusting after that car. Sometimes the right thing is to just present the defining characteristics of the product/service, and let the consumer worry about whether it’s right for them or not.

  4. @Geoff – I like differentiation in products that shows they have though about how I use them. Clothing retailers are an obvious example of that.
    @Kat – good point about creative directors being mostly males. I’m not sure I think like other women though. Often, I have less in common with soccer moms, for example, than I do with male consultants or car lovers. And I have laser focus on exactly what I want to buy, so I go in and come out. I don’t enjoy shopping malls, or hunting for a bargain (takes time away from productive work 😉
    @Rosemary – love cars, too. Growing up in the land of Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s and Ducati’s, I do have an affinity for engines. Context can influence us more than gender.

  5. Valerie,
    I love your post and it appears to be quite timely. There is growing discussion about the lack of diversity in the technical community, from female representation in tech firms to women presenters at technical conferences. I recently wrote in Huffington Post about how technical vendors and brands are missing out when they target women via stereotype marketing–focusing on domestic roles women play and technology as fashion. Would love your thoughts on this.

  6. Here’s the scoop – everyone is different than everyone else. But, in the world of advertising and marketing, groups of one sort or another, are as much alike as they are different.
    Harley Davidson bike riders – men or women, are marketed to differently than the men and women who love Mini-coopers.
    Musicians – male or female – are marketed to differently than computer nerds.
    Women make up a very large consumer group. A very large, diverse group. Because women, as a whole influence the majority of spending, it pays to try and understand them.
    Mommy bloggers are also pet bloggers – and each faction is different, but the same. Within those groups, the individual women vary as much as our United States vary – but are part of a collective whole.
    Does this warrant a look at women as a group when considering your marketing approach? Yes – you need to first recognize that women are influential, that they are diverse and connected, that they are social and vocal, and then… you need to say, which women are inclined to buy my product? And which women might be inclined to recommend it?
    To ignore this power that women, as a whole, have… is just bad business. I reminds me of the 1970s when Moms were told to raise their sons and daughters the same, because they were children and gender shouldn’t matter.
    Well, it did then and it does now. IMHO

  7. @Kelly – thank you for sharing the link to your post on this very same topic. And for the links to resources in the post. Interestingly, I wrote this post Saturday, before I saw Arrington’s post and there was a resurgence of the topic. A while back I wrote suggestions for women to take a more active role in pitching themselves as speakers. I do wonder… is the whole system run from a male POV?
    @Yvonne – age groups as well. Thank you for bringing it up. I personally find it hard to identify with American women and people who have not been exposed to different cultures, for example, because we were brought up in such different environments. Perhaps I notice this more with women because I have that expectation that I should identify with this group? And thank you for sharing the link to that rich discussion. Welcome back to the comments!

  8. Limiting this conversation to the question of marketing will be a small exercise in restraint, but worth the effort.
    I have found that the male/female demographic split isn’t the one that usually matters the most – I tend to agree with the comments Yvonne has made, above, in that regard. Geography, “urbanicity” and even racial splits often have more nuance and insight.

  9. “Until we have more women creating and greenlighting creative work, we’ll continue to be subjected to groupthink from a group that doesn’t think the way we do.”
    Not necessarily. We need more people, men and women, who realise that people are people, no matter their sex.

  10. Hi Valeria,
    About 10 years ago I ran a CoF meeting on indigenous story telling and business at our state museum.
    The meeting was led by a local aboriginal elder ( long story the elder we’d organised couldn’t make it and the security guard ( who happened to be an elder also) stood in.
    The curious thing he did was to begin by telling a local story and then divided the group into “mens business” and “woman business”.
    He then asked the groups to discuss what they had heard.
    What emerged was that the men and woman understood the same story very differently.
    He then implored us to respect men’s and woman’s business and to confuse the two at our peril.
    In light of this its interesting to read your comment:
    “More and more I’m seeing diversity between individuals, not genders. Especially as we all embrace a cultural movement that has us reprioritize what we buy, we’re all influenced by economical, functional, social, physical, and mental considerations.”
    Anyway it was a great night.

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