Successful business women are great at building relationships with other women and supporting one another in doing charitable or civic work. That said, they are often reluctant to do business together– to the point where the mere mention of doing business can seriously threaten a solid friendship.
I was bemoaning this fact to a friend recently and she pointed me to an article in Fortune magazine entitled “How Friendship Holds Women Back in Their Careers – and What They Can Do About It.” In the article, the author, tech exec Mallun Yen states that after interviewing dozens of women, she concluded there is a “false dichotomy between personal relationships and the transactionality of business.”
Yes. Amen. Also WTH?
I cannot tell you how many prospecting calls I sat in with my former partner (a man) where the conversation ended with “how can we do business with each other?” Or “can you send us some business?” Not only was this not uncomfortable, it was expected. And the follow through on any promises of business made in the meeting was staggeringly high.
Contrast this with Yen’s observation:
“Women who received an ask from a friend said they didn’t expect their friends to hit them up for business and when they did, it sometimes caused an unspoken tension that dampened their enthusiasm for the relationship. Some even began to doubt the true motives behind the friendship in the first place. Others went so far as avoiding those who might ask for business later.”
She adds “women tend to struggle when it comes to mixing money and friendship, cutting themselves off from one of the most effective tactics in the constant struggle to get ahead.” Is this due to the classic stigma women have in their minds: ‘don’t mix business with pleasure’?
Men have been mixing business with pleasure for centuries. This form of prospecting is the basis on which many business and sales practices exist. What better person to refer work to than someone you already know and trust?
I often find myself on the receiving end of women’s reluctance to mix business and friendship. I know many amazing women who are in very high-profile corporate positions, however, very few of them are in a sales role. When we spend time together, whether it is socially or in a business setting, I often get the feeling that they are on guard around me. Is it because they know I am in a sales role? Side note – this is a topic for another day, however, real estate brokers are consultants who provide specialized and proven value-added services; our role goes beyond sales.
Now, if I want to attend an event one of these women is involved in, they are happy to help. One of the commenters on Wen’s article observed, “My female friends are more likely to support the ‘soft’ benefits: speaking opportunities, events and attendance at women-only gatherings.”
When I try to get a meeting to discuss their company’s real estate needs, it can be a different story.
Assume for table stakes that I am good at my job. I have been a tenant representative office advisor for twenty-five years across the United States, have graduate degrees in both law and business, and write a professional blog to ensure that I am always learning and growing in my field. When I propose my services to a potential client, I am not asking them to take a chance on me because I am trying to get my career off the ground. I am qualified and capable.
That said, I find that I am less likely to get fair consideration for business from a female friend than from a complete stranger, or even a male friend for that matter. Wen’s theory? “Trying to make the leap directly from intense personal relationships to business can feel abrupt and awkward to both sides. So the very thing about female friendships that is deservedly celebrated may also be holding us back from generating vital business with each other.”
I have to stop and ask myself whether I make an effort to do business with my women friends. Or am I just as guilty of this bias?
Sometimes, I do make an effort. But not always. My inability to answer “always” is often a result of my concern about the appearance of favoritism; a concern I think is misplaced. If a woman is capable and a friend, why wouldn’t I choose to do business with her over someone else?
What does this mean for me going forward?
Two things. First, I am going to make an effort to identify and reach out to my women friends when I have a business opportunity for them. Second, I am going to make sure that I welcome other women to approach me with their business requests. They need to feel safe asking me for business. And that is up to me.
Yen suggests one of the best ways to make that happen is to consider addressing the elephant in the room and “acknowledge the awkwardness that can arise” when you scaffold from a personal relationship to a business one. What does this look like? Perhaps you begin the conversation with “I would like to talk to you about your company’s real estate needs and whether I could provide value to you relative to those needs. I realize we are friends so I would only be raising this subject with you if I thought I was qualified and our doing business together would reflect positively on you in your business role.”
This is not a feminist issue. This is straight-up business with friends whom you know and trust to get the job done. Join me?