sixtiesI watched parts of the CNN series on “The Sixties.” I am struck by the differences in gender roles five decades ago and today. Then hosts of talk shows and variety shows, news anchors, reporters, comedians, world leaders, congressmen, corporate executives. and others making the news were almost all men.

I know how much has changed for women in this time. I was there for much of what the series captures. But seeing it visually is still a bit of a shock. I had a similar feeling when I read When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins.

Women are more and more common every year in visible positions of expertise, authority, and power. It is no longer a surprise or a novelty to see a respected woman legislator, commentator or CEO. The current number of women in the U.S. senate (22) is the highest ever. Seeing the president of Germany and GM and the presumptive nominee for president of the U.S. by the Democratic Party has done much to shift our images of what women can do and where they belong.

BUT (there is a “but”) women are not as far along as one would expect in 50 years. The western world is a relative paradise for women compared to the subjugation of women in the Middle East. Yet corporations can decide on what kind of birth control will be made available to American women. “Equal pay” is still the subject of debate. Women are 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEO’s compared to nearly 47% of the workforce.

We are not there yet. “There” is where and when women and men compete equally for all positions, are evaluated on the same criteria, and are paid the same for the same work. “There” is when we look at results rather than the way we achieve them; it is when we value equally masculine and feminine ways of thinking, working and leading.

Do you think we are there yet?

women business development golfAre there different challenges for women in building the kinds of business relationships that lead to sales? I have been looking at how women build relationships with prospective male clients. What kinds of outings work for women? Are they the same as those that work for men?

I recently did a series of interviews with women attorneys about how they build relationships with men they hope will become clients. Building business relationships through one-on-one social events (e.g., dinner or drinks) can still be harder for women. What about sporting events? Lots of business relationships are built at sporting events and on the golf course. It is common sense that the most successful outing will be one that both parties enjoy. Are women as likely to enjoy building a relationship at a ballgame or on the golf course?

Many women like ballgames; many men do not. But it is safe to say that men are more likely to love attending sporting events than women. If a firm or business makes sporting tickets available for business development purposes, they may be catering more to the interests of men. And if they make only two tickets available, they may put women in the awkward position of having an outing look like a “date.”

The amount of relationship-building and work that happens on the golf course may be exaggerated. But important conversations do occur over golf. Some women have felt it necessary to learn to golf to avoid missing out on these conversations. One woman I interviewed feels it is important to play – and be willing to “pick up your ball.” She noted that the woman hanging out in the spa (getting a massage or facial) while the men golf is less likely to be engaged in business-building conversations!

In my interviews, several women told me they simply do not enjoy golf or are not good enough at it to play with a male prospect. (I am in this camp.) They simply find other ways to build relationships. At least two women told me they are more likely to invite a prospect to the symphony or the opera (if they know he likes that kind of performance) and do not at all feel disadvantaged by staying off the course.

What kinds of events have you seen work for women in building business relationships? Do you think women are less likely to be successful using sports to develop business?

women sellingDo women face greater challenges in building the kinds of business relationships that lead to sales? I have been looking at the issue of women and the skill of marketing and selling themselves. Sales, particularly for personal services, are, of course, based on relationships. In many sectors there are more male than female prospective clients. So women must often build business relationships with men. What issues can make that tougher, or at least different, for women?

In preparing to write an article and design a workshop, I have done a series of interviews with women attorneys about how they “sell” their services to others, particularly men. I have found that some things (like being comfortable with self-promotion) have not changed over the last few decades for women. Other things have changed – or appear to be easier for younger generations of women. One is building business relationships through social events.

For us women Baby Boomers, asking a prospective male client (as opposed to a client we know well) to dinner, drinks or other social event simply does not feel comfortable. We are concerned it will also be uncomfortable for the prospective male client. How might it look? We do not want the prospect, or anyone who sees us, to think the meeting is anything other than a professional one. The risk of “sexual innuendo” means we are more likely to invite a male prospect to breakfast or lunch. Or we invite other people so it is not “just the two of us.” A colleague of mine made sure she brought a stack of papers and put them visibly on the table to make it clear this was a business meeting.

Younger women (especially Millennials) appear to be more comfortable inviting a male prospect of their own generation to one-on-one social engagements. Millennials grew up with play dates and group dating. They grew up competing with both men and women. They grew up seeing women in high positions and have had women bosses. Gender relations are more straightforward for the youngest generation in the professional world. One young woman I interviewed admitted, however, that she would not feel comfortable inviting a “guy in his 50’s or 60’s” to dinner or drinks. As long as prospective clients of the older generations are around, the “innuendo” issue will apparently remain.

How have you or other women you know handled building business relationships through social events? Do you think it is easier for younger women?

Enter your email address to subscribe to Caroline's blog about diversity in the workplace and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Is your leadership style more masculine or feminine? 

Receive a FREE "Masculine-Feminine Continuum Profile" when you sign up for the DifferenceWORKS monthly newsletter.

Privacy by SafeSubscribe