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Women communicators in the workplace: natural born marketers?

With the rise in calls for the democratizing of the workplace and for greater entrepreneurship and innovation in work roles, the concept of internal marketing has achieved some prominence as a mechanism, especially for service firms. Considers the possibility that women may be "natural" internal marketers and that, when they establish and dominate the culture of a business enterprise, this may make for more cohesive organizational arrangements and hence more successful business. Introduces a framework for operating a parallel or collateral organization which focuses on development and improvement and considers its implications for management style. Examines characteristics of the male and female character structure to see how they might impact on communication and management style. Concludes that female managers will be characteristically more at home with the requirements of a marketized enterprise and that this can be of positive benefit to the "health" of members' working relationships and of overall corporate performance.

Introduction to an internal marketing framework

The enterprise can usefully be "marketized" to obtain the benefits of greater co-operation and co-ordination, but only if the market is seen as a social rather than an individual mechanism (Hutton, 1994; Varey, 1996). This conversion in the way of doing business requires a parallel organization structure and processes which focus on development and improvement, while allowing people to "cross over" back into value-creating working arrangements, roles, and relationships (Bushe and Shani, 1991). This "co-operative community" management framework can ensure that interactive communication occurs throughout an organization (Varey, 1996) because the set of logically connected decision points and communicative activities enables a co-operative working environment of joint-responsibility decision making.

The process is a way of working which ensures customer orientation and a developmental customer service climate (a market-responsive system) by applying principles of marketing to create exchange relationships in which respective needs and desires are met through co-operative attitudes and behaviour -- there is marketing across functional and interpersonal borders. The framework is a systematic planned programme of positive change for enhanced capability for the development of a sustainable competitive advantage. It has sequenced, logically connected and related steps at which a business question is asked and one or more interactive activities initiated to provide answers for cooperative management decision making and work-group action (see Table I).
Table I
A framework for capability enhancement

Step   Key management question

1      Are we sure of long-run success through
       continuous learning?

2      Where will we go in the future?

3      To what extent do organization members
       value customer service?

4      What do customers require?

5      Which customer needs can we hope to
       satisfy best?

6      Which customers should we aim to do
       business with?

7      What factors do these customers use to
       assess the attractiveness of the products
       and services they require and to choose a

8      How do we rate relative to our

9      To what extent do our staff know and
       understand customers' expectations, as
       raised by our promotional communications
       and other suppliers' offers, from the
       customer's perspective? To what extent do
       they know and understand the customer's
       perception of delivered product and
       service quality?

10     Specifically, in what ways do we fail to
       satisfy our internal and external

11     What can we do better than our

12     How can this be done?

13     What are our "key success factors"?

14     What processes contribute to the
       achievement of these key success factors,
       i.e. customer satisfaction?

15     Who contributes to these processes and
       what is their role?

16     To what extent do employees understand
       the "service concept" of the enterprise
       and how products and services appeal to

17     How capable is each process of satisfying
       every customer?

18     Specifically, what stops us from
       satisfying customers?

19     How can each value-adding process be

20     How supportive is the environment for
       achieving the key success factors?

21     What evidence is available to managers
       and staff on individual contribution to
       overall performance?

22     What performance measures will clearly
       tell us how well we are doing in satisfying
       our customers?

23     How does our current actual performance
       rate against our best competitors?

24     What progress has been made in
       enhancing ability to satisfy customers
       better than competitors?

25     What failures are identified?

26     What next?

Step   Key activity

1      Demonstrate top-down commitment to improvement by
       personal change, resource allocation and time allowance
       decisions which demonstrate desire for change -- initial
       briefing to raise awareness throughout the workforce

2      Measure the cost of doing the wrong things and doing
       things wrong

3      Personal selling of the service concept by managers, and
       training in customer service and marketing

4      Market scanning and customer analysis- establish
       "market focus" improvement steering team -initial review
       and diagnostic

5      Marketing review and group discussions to develop and set
       a shared statement of where the organization should go in
       the future -- training in marketing principles

6      Group discussions to define market segments -- planning
       workshops to relate corporate objectives and improve
       customer awareness

7      Customers survey by those staff who interact with

8      Customer satisfaction survey by those staff who don't
       generally interact with customers

9      Take time out of reacting to demands to meet and talk with
       customers about their expectations and perceptions of the
       product and service actually delivered -- where gaps are
       identified, problem-solve to improve performance and
       reduce gaps between expectations raised and perceived
       quality. Selection, induction, and training to build
       marketing awareness and customer-conscious behaviour

10     Staff working "climate" monitoring -- communicate facts
       and consequences to all staff to highlight dissatisfaction
       -- seek causes and prevent -- avoid "scapegoating" or

11     Group discussions to define realistic basis for sustainable
       competitive advantage

12     Suggestions -- brainstorming and training sessions -- all
       staff develop and agree means of their own contributions to
       key success factors, i.e. working group operational plans

13     Company-wide staff survey and interactive communication
       -- personal selling of change rationale

14     Functional and process review and analysis. Establishment
       of internal customer-supplier chains with explicit agreed
       expectations of each other. Audit to eliminate whatever
       does not add value

15     Organization audit by stakeholders and basic quality
       improvement and marketing training-job competences
       and skills audit. Recruitment and rewards which recognize
       all employees as marketing resources

16     Internal promotion prior to external promotion of products
       and services

17     Process capability audits

18     Suggestions and training sessions and co-ordinated small
       research teams -- climate and structures review -- barriers
       identified and removed- associated negative experiences
       removed. Internal market research to identify and
       understand individual needs, attitudes, and "best practice"
       and gaps between how employees think the organization
       should be run and how they perceive it is run -- segment the
       "internal market". Remove blockages

19     Management support for company-wide service quality
       improvement. Design, brief and initiate action-oriented
       team-based problem solving for job/role and process
       improvement, including perceived costs and benefits of
       changes to specific work groups -- successful
       improvements widely publicized and rewarded

20     Investigate ways of making the structure and procedures
       more flexible and responsive to customer needs -- actively
       increase change potential. Design a management response
       strategy for each discrete market segment

21     Annual appraisal meeting to agree a personal development
       plan linked to organization's overall goals

22     Establish targets and bases for measuring improvements

23     Benchmarking survey -- publicize results widely

24     Review and Audit -- results and new questions publicized.
       Company-wide reflection on lessons learned. Personal and
       team rewards should encourage change of organization for
       the better

25     Establish next stage improvement projects -- prevention
       and corrective action implemented

26     Do it all again!

Management issues resulting from adopting an internal marketing framework

The adoption of internal marketing will depend on the attitude of managers to their employees (Nwankwo, 1993) and often managers presume that they know what employees want and how best to satisfy them, and may take for granted the disposition and attitudes of employees to quality and service. Many managers see their employees as unsure, irrational (even unintelligent), and thus attempt to take control by directing behaviour along their own desired path. In this managerial culture, there is, characteristically: no employee-driven mission; no effective information system; minimal or no employee input in a decision-making mechanism; no employee involvement in setting service objectives and standards; behaviour which is not value-driven, but activity-driven, especially at the internal-external interface, thus ignoring behavioural antecedents.

To effect internal marketing there must be a genuine desire to integrate internal customers' interests into the decision-making mechanisms. Internal customer consciousness is demonstrated, according to Nwankwo (1993), by: emphasizing employee expectations and acting on them to minimize and avoid dissatisfaction and demotivation; taking a planned, coordinated approach to dealing with employee problems; developing employee policy with perceptive research; adopting a preventive and anticipative stance in formulating policies that will affect employees; viewing all employees as marketing resources and their interactions as "points of marketing" (Gummesson, 1991).

Managers must appraise and manage the internal dynamics of their organization as value-adding relationships -- the nature and purpose of communication is particularly key to organization development and performance, and therefore a potential source of competitive advantage.

The management style must contain cues which elicit and foster the creation and delivery of value to internal and external customers. The system of control must be attuned to the customer satisfaction goal and an overall service quality culture.

Gender differences and management styles

There is evidence to support the notion that in their approach to business relations, there is a marked difference between male and female management values (Carter and Cannon, 1992). Females seem more anxious to develop group-based, consensus-driven ventures, while the traditional male leans more towards the leader-based ventures. Females measure their success qualitatively (personal satisfaction, customer service ratings and additional employment) while males tend to measure their success quantitatively (market position, turnover and profitability) (Oliver, 1996).

One of the major differences between male and female managers is women's emphasis on an open and flexible atmosphere and general ethos and this is reflected in their management style and use of open channels of communication, flexible systems and the establishment of good interpersonal relationships. On the other hand, male managers perceive power over their subordinates which is embedded in the traditional powerful male boss role (Heath, 1994). Women seem to prefer a democratic style of management while men prefer authoritarian styles.

Established management and leadership theories appear to be modelled on male behaviour, perceptions and values, but recent work has shown that female managers are beginning to use influence strategies and rely more on rewards and encouragement than on punishment as a means of achieving their objectives.

It is commonly accepted that communication defines the style of leadership (Helgesen, 1990) and what reconciles efficiency with human values, and that gender and level in the echelon determine the kinds of strategies managers use when influencing subordinates. Helgesen (1990) states that traditional military-based hierarchical structures are male-biased and make women feel less at home and that, as the traditional organizing structures are replaced by new forms, female values are seen as necessary and that these

are not necessarily owned only by women but are seen as definitive female characteristics. This female way of relating to people and ideas can bridge the gap between the demands of efficiency and the need to nurture the human spirit and this sits better with the emerging knowledge-based economy (Belenky et al., 1989). Lines of authority are less defined and this fits better into new web-type organizing structures. The integration of female values is already producing a more collaborative kind of leadership and changing the ideal of what constitutes strong leadership (Helgesen, 1990).

Vokin studied successful well-established businesses initiated and run by women (see Allen and Truman, 1993), and found that the women tended to use a transformational management approach and adopt certain management styles:

* loose hierarchy with a less-structured organization;

* co-operation and fluid style;

* less conscious of authority and status;

* a personal approach to customers and employees;

* caring, involvement and equality;

* open communication and access;

* taking satisfaction from developing others' skills; and

* a team-based approach.

The above is consistent with the internal marketing approach outlined, so gender differences are now further considered in the light of this.

Male characteristics that impinge on management styles

Johnson, in his book Monkey Business (1995), makes the analogy of the biological male's and the business male's approach to survival as the "venture capital approach". He describes this as high risk, high gain -- high risk because all other males in the environment are in the same position and the position is therefore highly competitive. This competitiveness causes them to adopt aggressive strategies in order to enable them to get their full share of whatever is going, if not more. Males have a tendency to dominate and this is often manifested in physical behaviour such as interrupting more during a conversation.

A study of work attitudes across 43 countries (Lynne, 1991) found that men scored more highly than females on competitiveness, they attached more value to money and had a stronger preference for careers with high financial reward and power. These results were echoed in Hofstede's study (1980) which compared male and female attitudes and behaviour and found that men were more assertive, found money more important and appreciated ostentatious manliness. These results were also echoed in Storey and Strange's work (1992) where male entrepreneurs were seen to be motivated by market factors as opposed to females who were motivated by non-market factors such as low staff turnover and strong customer relationships.

This general feel of competitive struggle (which Hutton (1994) describes as a compulsion of the public school ethic) means that men tend to play power games and behave "politically" more so than women and "old boys networks" and "drinks at the golf club" serve the purpose of keeping out those who don't belong (Carter, 1996), which refers back to Johnson's venture capital approach analogy.

One male characteristic that does not sit well with recognized two-way communication skills is their disinclination to listen (Gilligan, 1982), and studies on gender differences in the use of language suggest that men tend to speak far more than women, while women do more listening. Also, female listening is different, it is more intense, more thoughtful and more attentive, and this is related to their desire to make others feel comfortable (Campbell and Moyers, 1988). Males tend to view truth as abstract and objective, whereas females tend to view it as contextual and this can affect what is heard, rather than what is said (Helgesen, 1990).

Female characteristics that impinge on management style

Johnson's (1995) analogy for the female of the species is that the business female's approach to survival is "the bank deposit approach". He describes this as low risk, modest gain -- low risk because they ensure survival by concentrating efforts on nurturing and caring for the few, rather than aggressively taking on the multitude; and modest gain because with these strategies you do not get the exceedingly high rewards, but then you do not get the cataclysmic failures either. In a study to see if management cultures would transfer across national cultures, Hofstede (1980) found that women were basically nurturing, and he observes that feelings were of the utmost importance and values stressed a more humane community-oriented management across all the stakeholder groups.

In a further study, Lynne (1991) found that the movement away from the Theory "X" and hierarchical design of structure, much preferred by men, towards the flatter, more egalitarian structures (commonly called democratic structures) preferred by women, helps sophisticated modern workers, who see themselves as professionals. This is further substantiated by Pfeifer (1992) who states that effective managers now have to campaign rather than coerce, communicate rather than mandate, and co-operate rather than dominate. Co-operation is a deep-rooted part of human nature, according to Pfeifer (1992), and our most important asset, and the conditions in business that foster co-operation are smaller organizations which give people opportunities to interact (i.e. continual closeness through interpersonal communication).

All of these conclusions support the original supposition that the female manager with her "bank deposit approach" is more likely to be successful in the modern business environment. However, this more cautious and risk-averse approach does mean that women do not always grasp their business opportunities in the same ("aggressive") way that men would (Oliver, 1996).

Anita Roddick, founder and Chief Executive of the Body Shop, claims to run her business according to female principles and sees these as:

* caring;

* making intuitive decisions;

* not getting hung up on hierarchy;

* a sense of work as part of life, not separated from it; and

* putting your labour where your love is (BBC Radio 4, 1997).

These can all be seen as stemming from the traditional domestic, nurturing female role (Hennig and Jardin, 1976).

Investigations into female business qualities also show that their attitudes are reflected in the words they use to describe their activities: "flow, interaction, access, involvement, network, reach" (Helgesen, 1990). All of these emphasize relationships and processes which are strongly at variance with male attitudes which tend to emphasize outcome and achievements (Helgesen, 1990). Carter (1996) instances another way in which men and women differ and that is in their need for self-aggrandizement. In her study women paid greater attention to detail generally and were intent on completing any task they took on without being bothered about being seen to be doing it, whereas men tended to need to be seen to be doing things and expected praise for any successful outcome.

In a study of how men and women communicate, carried out over seven years with 25,000 participants, Gray (1992) found that there were such basic differences between the sexes on many criteria that it is not surprising that they don't always understand each other (see Table II).
Table II
Matrix of gender differences

Criteria                      Men

Defining self                 Ability to achieve results
Making themselves feel        Retreat to security and solve
better                        problems alone
Feel motivation and           When they feel needed
Use of "common" language      Use words to express information
(facts and figures)
Giving and receiving          Difficult to differentiate between
support                       empathy and sympathy (hate to be
                              Don't offer help unless asked
                              Don't want help unless they ask
Emotional needs               Trust, acceptance, appreciation,
                              admiration, approval, encouragement

Criteria                      Women

Defining self                 Through feelings and quality of
Making themselves feel        Be with people and talk about the
better                        problems
Feel motivation and           When they feel cherished
Use of "common" language      Use words to express feelings
(facts and figures)
Giving and receiving          Need reassurance that they are
support                       behaving correctly

                              Don't wait to be asked, offer it
                              Give support whether wanted or
Emotional needs               Caring, understanding, respect,
                              devotion, validation, reassurance

Source: Gray (1992)

It can be seen from Table II that communication is particularly important to women while not so important to men. It can also be seen that men see success, through their own eyes, as an internal (abstract) concept whereas a woman sees her success through interaction with others. It is also apparent how important the process and relationship-building is to women while to men the ability to achieve success and be given respect for achieving that success is the most important consideration. In considering the reasons for the differences in behaviour that people notice during communication events, one can see more clearly where understanding could make a big difference to any effective communication structure within an organization.

One of the main differences noticed between male and female communication styles is in where the emphasis lies in relation to channels of communication, flexibility of systems, and establishment of good interpersonal relationships (Carter and Cannon, 1992), and it can be seen from Gray's work that these are very much skills that lie within the female domain. Johnson's (1995) work also demonstrates that the main difference in leadership style between men and women is women's greater concern and sensitivity for people and interpersonal issues.

It must, however, be appreciated that all these characteristics, both male and female, are used by both genders in varying degrees of importance. Some female managers will adopt more of the male characteristics and some males will adopt archetypal female characteristics in their pursuit of managerial goals, according to their belief as to what will be successful.

Relationship between management styles and business success

For a company to be successful, modern motivational theory tells us that employees need to be appreciated, that their contribution needs to be seen to be highly valued and they need to feel that their quality of life is important to their employer. We are also told that these motivational aspects are achieved by empowering employees and by providing open communication opportunities and involvement in decision making (Hudetz, 1995).

Employee empowerment also needs commitment to training and the development of knowledge and skills (Barrier, 1995). Cohen and Jennings (1995) found that there was a close relationship between formalized management strategies and individual communication styles and that women opted for formal training to a greater extent than men, both for themselves and for their staff.

There is also a general feeling that communication competence is a control factor in organizational success, that effective communication styles manifest themselves through people's personae, and that relationships between people constitute the structure and power distribution in a company (Heath, 1994). Effective management strategies are seen to be closely linked to the ability to delegate (Carter and Cannon, 1992) and this bonding together into teams to amplify individual efforts needs communication as both an instrumental and a social tool.

The investigation has shown that individual personae and relationship building are largely determined by individual management styles and that, where people understand organizational communication performance, skills and processes, there will be a greater likelihood of a business being successful. This is further confirmed by a survey of 22,000 French businesses (Hussell, 1996), which shows that companies run by women are generally more successful than those run by men, largely because of their individual management styles. The women bosses cared little about titles or perks and preferred an egalitarian approach. They favoured consensus rather than bullying, and building relationships rather than playing power and money games. The study concluded that these characteristics led to a communication style which positively affected the growth and development of the company. This is further borne out by the fact that in the UK the number of small businesses owned by women is growing more rapidly than those owned by men (Hussell, 1996).


If Table I is studied in the light of the findings on male and female characteristics that impinge on management style, it can be seen that females are more likely to adopt the concept of an internal marketing way of working and more likely to put in the time and effort to ensure that it is successful. This claim was to some extent further substantiated by a study of small business owner/managers (Freeman, 1997) in which male and female entrepreneurs were interviewed to determine their communication and management styles. This study highlighted the preference of females for a democratic, consensus-driven approach, and a preference for an authoritarian, "us and them" approach among males. This confirmed the authors' hypothesis that female owner/managers are more likely to adopt an internal marketing approach than males and are more likely to own and run successful businesses (Hussell, 1996).

We believe strongly that the evidence we supplied above provides affirmative support for our supposition in the title: that women are "natural born" marketers. Many feminists (including the editors of this special issue of Marketing Intelligence & Planning) are at pains to point out that differences between males and females are not natural, by which we mean biological, but emanate instead from cultural and social behaviour patterns. However, the sex/gender distinction is perhaps not so clear cut and is not supported by all feminst researchers, nor by all researchers who are not feminists. Barrett (1988) argues that she and other feminists find it increasingly difficult to keep distinct and separate the biological and the social.

While we support the view that sex/gender is more problematic than some feminists have traditionally posited, it is also the case that the male and female management styles we discussed above are not immutable. It is our contention that women behave in the way they do because it feels "natural" to them, but that men can behave in that way if it is shown to be beneficial, We also believe that women adopt more male approaches if they feel that in doing so they are likely to be more successful in attaining their stated goals. The impact of gender differences on communication and management styles, strategic decision making and ultimate business success is an important area of research and we look forward to pursuing it further.


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Sue Freeman Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester. UK

Richard Varey University of Salford, Salford, UK
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Author:Freeman, Sue; Varey, Richard
Publication:Marketing Intelligence & Planning
Date:Jun 1, 1997
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