In earlier parts of this series, I posed some interesting and possibly controversial questions about women, their contributions to their business communities, and their self promotion techniques.

As I explained in Part II:

“As professional service providers, we are promoting (on the surface anyway) what appears to be gender neutral skills. So what does that mean? It means that service providers such as CPA’s, attorneys, money managers etc. are selling the benefits of their education and experience. We are, as such, our own product and that product consists of our professional skills and reputation.

“But does the above description of a service provider really encompass all of the skills a woman brings to the (provider) table? Is it possible that a woman’s contribution is different from a man’s simply by virtue of the fact that she is a woman? And if so, what are those contributions and differences? Further, if we accept that differences exist, are those differences something that should be promoted and how?”

Although I did find some interesting articles/studies that show that clear gender lines do exist as it relates to how men and women interact in their business communities, in my mind I don’t think I found any definitive answer that would clarify how women should act or how they should promote themselves.

Let’s face it; the idea that men and women are different certainly isn’t a new one. But what I do find interesting is how hard some women [at least in my experience] have worked or are working to convince their male counterparts that male/female differences don’t exist in business environments. And maybe something that seems more troubling is the belief that our interactions with female colleagues, employees, or the like, should have the same feel and tone as our dealings with our male colleagues.

It seems clear to me that professional service providers do possess gender neutral skills. But it’s also clear that women tend to think differently and act differently from men. These differences were highlighted in some of the studies I found while researching this article. One study that I found helpful in understanding these differences was “Critical Mass on Corporate Boards: Why Three or More Women Enhance Governance” [published in 2006 by Kramer, V. W Konrad, A.M. Erkut S]. This study showed that women bring with them enhanced qualities that differ from their male counterparts. For example, the study showed that women are more likely than men to encourage social support, win-win problem solving and listening.

Interestingly enough, [and this may surprise the reader] regardless of obvious gender differences, I have come to the conclusion that it would be wrong to assume that there is a specific way that a woman should act or how she should promote herself simply defined by her gender.

However, I also can’t make an argument that gender doesn’t have some impact on how we react and how people react to us. I also can’t think of any good reason that a woman should pretend to be something or someone that she is not. That is to say: I can’t think of any good reason that any woman should feel the need to act in a way that is contrary to how she would normally think or how she would normally feel.

Obviously there is an appropriate level of decorum and professionalism that is necessary in all business settings. Professional services providers must instill confidence and aquire the appropriate level of knowledge and skill in their respective fields regardless of gender.

But, to suggest that a woman should act in a way that is contrary to her nature is to suggest that it’s wrong for a woman to act like a woman. Further, women who feel the need to mask their female traits seem to be promoting the idea that being female or having female attributes is not professional, that it affects their reasoning ability, and that they are not effective leaders.

Much has been made lately over Hillary Clinton’s emotional response to a question asked by a supporter at a campaign stop. The focus of the news story was not about what she said in response to the question, but to her emotional response to the question. Here is my personal note to Hillary and to anyone who may think her reaction was not proper: If you are moved by an issue, its okay to show some emotion. That’s what women do – and guess what – its okay.

Based on my own personal experiences and the experiences of the many business women that I have been privileged to know, the answers to my question seem obvious: Women do bring qualities to the “provider table” that are different from men. Further, Its okay to be a women who acts like a women – even in business. We shouldn’t be afraid to be who we are. Women should examine and even embrace how their unique and possibly “feminine” perspectives could benefit their business communities even to the extent of promoting and capitalizing on those differences.

© Copyright 2007 Stacie Clifford. All rights reserved

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