Women and Business Development: What Are the Challenges?

Are there different or more difficult challenges in the area of business development for women vs. men? Women in general express less confidence and have a harder time “tooting their own horn” or selling themselves. In building relationships with male prospects, women have to choose a social setting that is comfortable for both – and does not look like a “date” or “come on.” Women need to stretch their boundaries and learn to enjoy “male” sports – like golf; that is where business is developed! There may be leftovers of old ways of thinking about women. Male prospects may have different or lower cultural expectations about women.

Women in the World: Not a Pretty Picture

Our diversity training programs and my blogs focus on gender diversity in the workplace, specifically at the leadership levels of business. This issue, while important, is the tip of the iceberg. There are more serious issues that I think are related. Women are under-represented and under-compensated not only in business but in educational, government, medical, military and non-profit workplaces. While business women are economically self-sufficient, many women live in poverty. Women are the victim of domestic and sexual violence across the globe. Are there common attitudes about women that underlie all of these issues?

Changing Our Images of Women

One of the mindsets that create obstacles for women in the workplace is “unconscious images.” We have mental pictures of how leadership looks and what women want and can do. In our workshops, we bring this and other mindsets to conscious awareness. In the news, we see women leaders and experts, including Fortune 500 CEO’s. Lean-In.org and Getty Images have joined these efforts to broaden our images of women’s potential. They have published a gallery of 2,500 images of women and men that challenge old stereotypes.

Gender Diversity and Those Darn “Mindsets”

McKinsey & Company issues an annual report called “Women Matter.” McKinsey has researched the bottom-line value of gender diversity, what has been effective in successful gender diversity initiatives – and what is still in the way. One of the things in the way is “unacknowledged mindsets.” “Cultural factors” are a key reason so few women reach the top. Culture reflects the “mindsets” of an organization’s leaders. The key to creating an inclusive culture is bringing unconscious mindsets to consciousness so attitudes and behaviors shift. In our workshops, we help bring awareness to those mindsets – the double bind, the comfort principle and unconscious images.

Unconscious Images: What Can We DO about Them?

Unconscious and invisible “mind-sets” explain the obstacles for women aspiring to business leadership. They explain why we still do not have gender diversity at the top. Unconscious mental images of how leaders look and act can create barriers for those who do not “look the part.” Leaders who are aware of this natural tendency can stop automatic thinking and look at a person’s results rather than whether they fit the image. Those affected by unconscious images can avoid violating norms of appearance at work; be sure the boss knows their skills and results; and collaborate with others to talk about successes.

Obstacles for Women Reaching the Top: Unconscious Images

This — unconscious images — is the third invisible “mind-set” that creates obstacles for women in business. Others are the comfort principle and the double bind. We all have pictures of how things look. If we have unconscious images of leadership and success, they can influence who gets good assignments and promotions. Someone who fits our image (“looks the part”) is more likely to come to mind. One who looks or works or leads differently may be overlooked. Or we may focus on how they work instead of their res