Why your presentations should factor in gender differences

Decades of research shows that women behave differently than men as shoppers in consumer settings, bringing an open mind to the purchasing process whereas males tend to be mission-and-task-oriented. But does the different approach carry over to how senior women make business-to-business decisions? Deloitte LLP executives Cathy Benko and Bill Pelster were surprised to discover there wasn’t much research to answer that question, so they conducted some.

They determined that there are substantial differences between men and women in the role of key organizational decision maker. With the caveat that “when we talk about male and female styles, we are talking about tendencies, not absolutes,” Benko and Pelster shared their insights in an article in Harvard Business Review (hbr.org). Among their findings:

Women tend to treat proposal presentations as opportunities for exploring possibilities, while men work to narrow down options and close in on a decision. This variation in style shows up in the approach to a request for proposal. For men, the RFP is a tool for bounding the scope of an engagement and for clarifying needs and decision criteria in advance; it outlines the rules of the game, and sellers take their best shot at winning by those rules. For women, an RFP is more like a map. It’s a useful guide, but once you get into the territory, the real exploration begins.