You may have heard about the book The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life. It’s raced to the top of the New York Times best selling list. Alice Schroeder wrote this unique biography of Warren Buffet. Buffet’s choice of Schroeder as biographer was a surprise to some, but not to Schroeder. Why? She knew that Buffet had a preference toward women.
Do men like you? I hope so. Some women think that it’s bad for business — but it’s not. It’s good for your business if you know how to handle men’s preference for women.
Early in my career I was a sales engineer in the oil business. My customers were pretty much part of the all-male environment of maintenance managers and plant engineers. A male coworker, who was also an engineer, worked with me on several of my accounts. One of our accounts was a steel mill. The maintenance manager, John, was a serious man who was efficient, but also seemed like a nice guy in our business meetings. I was surprised when, after a meeting with this customer, my coworker told me, “You know, John really likes you. He told me enjoys talking with you. You should stop in and talk with him when you’re working at the mill.” I must have given him a concerned look because he quickly added, “He doesn’t mean any funny business. He just enjoys your company.”
My work was usually in the plant doing gear studies and oil analyses. Lunch was my free time. Plant personnel usually get short lunch breaks so they don’t leave the mill. I decided to drop in on John during my next planned sales call during lunch to say hi and give him an update on my work. I did just that. We first talked about my work and then after we talked about how I –a Long Island female–got into the oil business. He thanked me for stopping by and said he hoped I would drop in again the next time I was in the plant. I did. Our lunch meetings were casual conversations where we discussed 20% business and 80% everything else– women in business, current events, hobbies, the oil business, and whatever seemed to come up. Once John shared with me an article he read about how women can thrive in a male dominated work environment.
My coworker told me that John really enjoys and looks forward to your meetings. I did, too and I know it helped cement my business relationship with his company. Some women would assume a guy taking an interest in them is based on some overtly sexual reasons. That certainly can be the case, but not always. There are men in business who genuinely enjoy the company of women–and mentoring them–because they enjoy their company. What a refreshing experience I had. You are lucky if you find yourself working with or for men who like women. Don’t assume the worst. Just use your judgment to keep the conversations appropriate and don’t move into the too personal areas too soon.