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Should gender be a selling point in business?

I received an email this week from a services provider (I won’t mention which), trying to arrange a sales meeting. The email content was standard, “I’d like to set up a time to chat…” and so on. Below this sales pitch was a bullet list of reasons why I should consider hiring the company.

“Women-owned business” was at the top of the list, in bold font.

This bothers me. Probably more than it should. Does the company lack differentiators to the degree they rely on gender to help close a sale? When I evaluate a service provider, I care about quality, service, results, and the organization’s values. Gender isn’t even on my radar. Chances are, I probably won’t ever have direct contact with the owner anyway.

This approach to marketing and sales strikes me as short sighted. For years, women have been struggling to overcome prejudice and inequality in the workplace. We want to be treated as equals, to receive fair compensation, and to be measured by our contributions, rather than gender. Yet here this company is, trying to position gender as a selling point and to capitalize on it. It feels like a step backward.

I’m not arguing men and women are identical, or the fact she is a woman couldn’t be a benefit to the company in some way. Maybe if they had gone on to say something about a woman’s nature or perspective being advantageous in their particular industry it would be less annoying. Or if they were selling a female specific line of products.

Some may see hiring a woman-owned business as an opportunity to support the “equality in the workplace” cause, but the fact the owner is a woman doesn’t necessarily translate to women-friendly practices in her business. In a past role, I had a female boss. She viewed femininity (wearing skirts, make up, being empathetic, having children, and so much more) as a weakness and held me to higher standards than my male counterparts. It was almost as if she was less “women-friendly” because she was caught up in trying to appear manly to succeed in the business world. I’ve known many women like this and heard similar stories from friends.

We shouldn’t have to deny our femininity to succeed in our careers and businesses, but we shouldn’t have to leverage it in this way either. What are your thoughts on this? Are you more likely to support a woman-owned business?

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