Should you adapt your business style to achieve success in a man’s world?

Inge Woudstra

Inge WoudstraInge Woudstra, Trainer, Consultant and Author of Be Gender Smart – The Key to Career Success argues women can be proud of who they are.

Most women today still view the corporate world as a man’s world, and some men also feel that there are certain roles or careers, that will forever be seen as “A man’s job”. As a matter of fact, many women adapt their style to fit into this men’s world. Just think of Margaret Thatcher or Madeleine Albright and you will get the picture.

But some women do it differently. They find ways to play the career game that do not require them to adapt. A good example is successful female entrepreneur Anita Roddick from The Bodyshop. She stood for her values, used her own distinct approach, and became very successful.

I believe there is more space for that now, as there are more women in senior roles than ever before.

Business is a men’s world

It’s not easy though to stay yourself, and there are many pressures to adapt. In fact most advice to women in business seems to say you need to adapt and learn the rules of the – male – game.

That is no surprise. Historically the business world is one of men. The language used, is typically male with challenging language, linking to sports and war, ‘Beat the competition’, and ‘Go hit those targets’.  A slogan in a recent advert aimed at entrepreneurs was, ‘Biting off more than you can chew shows you are still hungry’.

It’s not just language. Role models tend to be male too. Just think about successful entrepreneurs. Who do you think of? People like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg come to mind when I do.

So it’s hard to resist the temptation to adapt; the male way seems to be the way that business is done. It seems to be the way to success.

Develop your own style

However, as an entrepreneur you are uniquely positioned to develop your own style. There is no need to adapt to make sure your manager sees how brilliant you are and there is no need to fit in with the team.

You really can develop your own language, and create an organisation that you would love to work in. One that is engaging and motivates you with language that helps you to achieve results.

It’s not easy, as it does require you to develop your own style. You have to figure out your own way of doing things. Instead of adapting and copying you need to build on your own strengths. That is the way to be successful in the long-term, though.

You can find examples too. When you think a bit more carefully, it’s not even that hard to find successful female entrepreneurs that can be your role model. Just think of Melinda Gates, Oprah Winfrey or Beyonce. Who is your role model?

Your Strengths and Brain Differences

Some of your strengths may well lie in the brain differences between men and women.

Women have more connections in their brain than men. This means they look at the big picture and tend to see a situation in its context. As a result they tend to ask many questions and like to know why a task needs doing.  Starting up a project therefor may take longer, but during the process it’s easier to be innovative and flexible and still deliver an end-result that achieves it’s purpose.

Other areas where women are typically strong are: creating buy-in, building relationships of trust, doing what is feasible, keep up morale and drawing in a wide range of expertise and best practices.

What are your strengths? How are you applying those in your business?

Working with men

So should you not adapt your style at all? If only it was that simple. Of course you work with men as well as women. Men can be your clients, suppliers or colleagues. So it is important you understand the rules of the game they play and make sure you can build relationships with men too.

Some knowledge of gender difference can help you.

Men compete on being the biggest, the best and the strongest. They are usually motivated by challenges and competitions.

  • Setting targets and giving rewards and compliments for their output tends to work well.
  • Be careful you do not check in on them too often, as they may feel you do not trust them
  • Make sure they do not lose face, but instead give them a way to save face in difficult or confrontational situations.
  • When selling, focus on how your product or service can help them achieve.

Men build credibility by confidently stating their achievements.

  • When out networking, make sure you do not just ask questions and listen, but list your own achievements confidently too. Men will expect you to do that and respect you for it.

Male brains have fewer connections than female brains and information is processed more locally. As a result men tend to prefer a focussed approach.

  • Make sure you discuss a topic fully, and then move on to the next. Do not raise a long list of issues; rather raise 1 or 2 at a time.

So there really is no need to adapt when you are an entrepreneur. You can be yourself. In fact you have to be yourself, and work from your own strengths. That way you can create a business that builds on your strengths and is sustainable in the long term. Of course you need to adapt sometimes too. When working with men you need to understand what they do and what works for them.