A Personal Touch

The Tall Poppy Syndrome

Are you confident your female staff members are maximizing their true potential? During presentations to women's groups, Duff has asked women to raise their hands if they've ever passed on a promotion or business opportunity because they felt it would disturb the "dead-even rule" with female co-workers. Usually about half raise their hands. "For many women, openly competing at work is still difficult. Women need to play a bigger part in encouraging each other to succeed in business," Duff says.

An August 1999 Gallup Organization poll of 641 male and female employees indicated that some women still struggle with the idea of female leadership. Participants were asked if they would rather work for a man or for a woman. Of the female employees surveyed, 42 percent indicated they would rather work for a man, 22 percent would rather work for a woman and 35 percent didn't prefer one over the other (1 percent didn't have any opinion).

Amy Zimmerman, 41, refers to the phenomenon of power and success off-putting other women as "tall poppy syndrome." Zimmerman is CEO of Amy Zimmerman and Associates Inc., a placement firm in Manhattan Beach, California, that employs 12 women and two men. With $2.1 million in 1999 sales, the company was selected by the LA Business Journal as one of Los Angeles County's top 100 woman-owned businesses in 1999. Zimmerman, who defines her style as aggressive, thinks women are multi-faceted and more detail-oriented than men, making a female environment more challenging to navigate. "It's actually harder being a female boss, and female employees aren't as easy to read," she says.

Working with clients presents other challenges. Zimmerman looked at her own staff recently-where five women and two men work in commission-only sales jobs-and found that calls made by her male salespeople were returned sooner. "Our guys got more returned calls. Out of 25 calls, the men got 10 returns on average, and the women got 2 calls returned," Zimmerman says. "Surveys also show that when it comes down to it, clients still would rather deal with men. People automatically assume a higher level of credibility." You'd never see it in the numbers, though: One of her female sales reps leads the team with $260,000 in sales, double the sales of the next nearest salesperson, also a woman.

Clore, on the other hand, doesn't see any credibility issues in her business, and 80 percent of her clients are male-owned engineering, architectural, restaurant and auto shop businesses. To her, being successful is about having confidence in the services you provide. Her biggest challenge with clients? "Sometimes we spend more time on them than we probably should," she says. "We end up sort of nurturing them along."

Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the November 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: A Personal Touch.

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