I will be speaking this fall at a conference for women “rainmakers” – lawyers who do or want to bring in a lot of business to their law firms. I am working on an article about challenges that face women in developing business (a polite phrase for “selling.”) I would like to hear from you whether you think selling is different or harder, in general, for women and, if so what are the challenges?
Here are some issues I am thinking about:
- Research says the average woman is not as comfortable “tooting her own horn” (selling herself). Claire Shipman and Katty Kay wrote “The Confidence Gap,” published in The Atlantic in April, providing reasons why women have less confidence on the whole than men. Selling yourself effectively requires confidence.
- Business development in the legal and other industries is based on relationship building. Business relationships are built in social settings. It may be awkward for a woman to invite a male prospect to dinner, drinks or other social outing. The fear of sexual innuendo limits many women to group settings, making getting to know someone harder.
- The average man and average woman may not enjoy the same kinds of recreation. If a woman does not play golf or enjoy team sports, she may have fewer options than her male colleagues for entertaining a prospective client. I know firms that provide only two tickets to sporting events, raising the “innuendo” issue.
- Some women find friendship and “selling” incompatible or feel there is something manipulative in mixing relationships and business development. Perhaps because of a fundamental difference in what relationships mean, men are not troubled by this.
- Women may still be faced in client relationships with the same issues they face within the workplace – old, unconscious “mind-sets.”
- They may be caught in the “double bind”. If they operate in feminine ways, they may be seen as weak (not a good thing for a prospective client to think). If they operate in traditionally masculine ways, however, they may not be seen as “ladylike” or liked.
- They may be affected by the “comfort principle.” Men may not feel as comfortable socializing with women colleagues as they do with men, who tend to share their perspectives, interests and style of humor. When choosing a lawyer, he may be more comfortable with a man.
- The prospective client may have “unconscious images” of a successful lawyer. Based on his experience, the image may be of a white male. The client may not see a woman (particularly a woman of color) “fitting this picture.”
Have these or other issues affected your success – or that of women you know – in bringing in business?