Are Men Incapable of Creating Businesses That Serve Women?

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Over the weekend, I had a quick twitter exchange with Tom Peters, the author of In Search of Excellence, Re-Imagine! and forthcoming book, The Little Big Things.

It started with the above tweet (that was meant as a joke).

Shortly after, Tom replied:

Tom brought up an interesting point…

And despite the fact that the last two companies I’ve founded have successfully served markets that are 75-80% women, to a large extent I agree with him. Women know women better, because they ARE closer to their clients than men will ever be. They can work from a place not of sympathy, but of empathy more easily. And I sense many women go about identifying and solving problems differently. More collaboratively, intuitively and experientially.

As Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco noted in her book, The Female Brain, womens’ brains function differently on both a structural and chemical level. And, that too may well give an advantage when building businesses that serve the needs of women.

Does that mean ALL men should be banned from designing products and experiences for women?

Of course not. There are exceptions to every rule. Some men tend to connect more easily with women. To have an ability to understand the emotions, desires, frustrations, needs and pain points better than others. Some work intensely hard to place themselves into the daily lives of the women they seek to serve. Some do it well enough to create extraordinary solutions for women. But, it’s been my experience, those men are very much the minority.

Most who try end up either failing or creating solutions and experiences that effectively serve women. But, the goal of a business, product or experience should never be to “effectively serve” a market. It should be to blow peoples’ minds. So, the question, when you look at men-built businesses that serve women, is not so much whether they’re making a buck and satisfying a need, but whether a women could do it better.

Now, you may already vehemently disagree. And, I’m still pondering how I feel about this issue when it comes to products and experiences.

But, even if you buy into Tom’s and my assertion, there is a place where it gets really murky…

When you move the conversation over to the realm of artists and solo-professionals.

Should male authors not write for female audiences because they just don’t get how to craft prose in a matter that’ll get deep enough into a woman’s head, heart and soul to hit home?

What about music? Or, paintings? Must one be a Celine Dion or Ann Rea to touch womens’ souls?

And, what about fashion? Or therapy?

Should male therapists yield the field to women when it comes to treating female patients?

Slippery slope here. So, I’m curious…

What do YOU think?


———Awakened Shout Outs————

Reset Business – You’ll be able to find Tom and I (he’s speaking, I’m playing), along with Michael Eisner (yes, that Michael Eisner), Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuck and Anna Bernasek at the very cool upcoming Reset Business event in NYC on April 20th.

Lemonade – If you’re one of the 8 people who still hasn’t seen Erik Proulx’s amazing mini-documentary, Lemonade, go check it out now.

Small Business Summit – If you’re in NYC on Tuesday, March 16th and you’re into small biz, think about swinging by this 1-day event (yes, I’ll be hanging out there, too, along with SmallBizTrends.com founder, Anita Campbell).

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33 responses

33 responses to “Are Men Incapable of Creating Businesses That Serve Women?”

  1. Loretta says:

    Well, you’ve brought up an interesting topic for sure. I think we would be a most boring society if men didn’t create products, experiences, and solutions for women, and vice versa. This road goes both ways after all. 😉

  2. I hesitate to use the word “incapable” of creating businesses that serve women especially because it’s likely to be used as an excuse to stop trying (See, men don’t get women, we can go back to ignoring them without any guilt!)

    That having been said I do think it’s probably difficult for men to to be wildly successful in creating “blow your mind” stuff for women simply because they’ve been culturally conditioned to believe the male experience is the one that matters.

    So, like most things dealing with gender norms, I think the answer is much more complicated than “try harder”!

  3. I think some products definitely need the male touch, I think a different perspective is needed with a lot of products, for instance look at fashion design, female designers tend to design clothes that they would feel good in, male designers design clothes that women will look good in (especially to the opposite sex- which we can’t deny is a vital component of a lot of buying decisions we make.) I think it’s the stereotypes that keep us divided on this issue, maybe it doesn’t so much have to do with gender, but with the differences in style that different genders use to experience each other. We need each other- we need a mingling or ideas, concepts and even senses to fully enjoy life… whether it’s music, food, art- we do need both masculine and feminine flavors. I’m all for it

  4. Jackie says:

    Yes women are definately wired differently than men.
    But determining whether a product or service can be better tailored to women if provided by women, cannot factor on gender alone.

    Nurture provides the differences that make each of us unique, there are many more successful male fashion designers than there are women, and I am as equally touched by Pavarotti as I am by Dion.

    But I do think you’ve opened up a can of worms here Jonathan

  5. I saw that tweet when you wrote and thought, “uh, oh, he’s going to get an earful about this one!”

    I think it goes even deeper than the man-woman difference. I think of all the marketing geared toward people that are into sports or cars, for instance, and I feel completely out of my element. There have been many times where I connected better with the women where I work, rather than the men. And yet other times where the opposite is true.

    I think this is a very complex issue, but necessary to keep in mind and explore. We want to connect honestly with those that are interested in what we have to offer and remember that no one is exactly like us or anyone else.

  6. Annabel says:

    It seems obvious to me that one doesn’t have to be a female artist to touch a woman’s soul or vice versa. There are millions of men moved to the core of their souls by Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro and Rickie Lee Jones, just as there are millions of women who have made a soul connection to the music of Jeff Buckley, Elliot Smith, or David Gray.

    Maybe what you’re saying is more true about things that are supposed to appeal specifically to woman as opposed to speaking to the universal human condition, but even then there are always exceptions: In general, I think women make better gynecologists than men, but I’ve heard stories about some women that are unsympathetic brutes and some men who are very gentle and understanding.

    I guess it’s up to the marketplace to decide whether or not a product or service speaks to them. I don’t think people should let their gender stop them if they are really passionate about creating something for the opposite sex.

  7. chrisbean says:

    I think the line to be drawn might be that men shouldn’t have the last word in marketing to women. That always ends badly. And pink.

  8. Luther says:

    Women love Chick-fil-A. Maybe it’s because the creator’s last name is a woman’s name (Cathy).

  9. Jonathan,

    I think it depends on how deep you want to go.

    On the surface, men and women seem pretty different.

    As you go deeper and deeper though, we’re all human.

    I think the deeper you go, the fewer differences remain.

    So perhaps the conversation changes depending on what level you’re focusing on…

    But I’m not sure that drawing lines in the sand is an effective way to create progress.

    If men designed only for men and women designed only for women, how much LESS variety would there be?

    I don’t know, it seems to me like we’d lose a lot of flavor.

  10. I have to say, I’m a huge reader, and one of my very favorite fiction authors is Nicholas Sparks. I’ve been really amazed sometimes how he connects with the female point of view in his romance novels…wow.

    And, as for music….Josh Groban seems to have a pretty good sense of how to get to a woman’s heart.

    Interesting discussion. I have both male and female clients, but the female definitely outweigh the male. Don’t know if that is because guys would rather take busn advice from a guy, or what. But, I enjoy all points of view myself and would never hire someone or not buy their product based on their gender (even my obgyn is a guy…).

  11. bill connett says:

    It’s about diversity. Any thought or initiative that is designed to limit diversity or expression by diverse individuals is ultimately limiting humanity. Homogeneity is the path to boredom and extinction for businesses and for societies.

  12. I’m a wedding photographer. While I may meet with a bride and groom, more often than not, I’m catering more to women because for the most part, they are asking more questions and more involved in the planning. Do I care or worry about your question when serving my clients? No. It doesn’t matter what I think or what you think or what my competitors think. It matters what my customers think and I’m going to find a way to serve each individual on that basis. My experience is that it hasn’t made one bit of difference for most people. If someone decides they must have a female photographer, that doesn’t mean men are incapable, it was a need that a client had. And I’m finding the number of people who differentiate based on gender near zero because it hardly matters to most people.

  13. Cathy says:

    Have you heard of the recent book Pink Brain Blue Brain by Lise Eliot PhD, a professor of neuroscience at The Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine & Science?

    Eliot refutes the arguments made by Louann Brizendine and others by saying that the brains of infants are highly malleable, and the sex differences at birth are slight. Parents, teachers, peers, and the culture exacerbate those tiny differences by (often unconsciously) reinforcing gender stereotypes.

    It makes a fascinating read as it turns the last 10-15 years of scientific thinking (often based on studies with extremely small sample sizes) right on its head.

    Having read Eliot’s book, I’d have to argue that the question of men being able to effectively serve (let alone blow away — in a good sense) the market of females has no easy answer. I would tend to agree with Jason Leister’s comment above that, at the deepest level, we are all human.

    However, to the extent the male/female brains are different (however that difference comes about), I think that both sexes can benefit from the opposite sex’s perspective.

  14. Mike Willner says:

    I wouldn’t generalize. I think some men can produce products for, and provide services to, women just as well as some women can do the same for men. And whether a particular man or woman “should” provide products or services to women or men, respectively, so long as they are satisfying their customers needs and they are making a living doing so, then you have your answer.

  15. I think men who don’t understand women shouldn’t have the last word on a group-created package, process, product, whatever. Most guys (not your readers, of course) really do believe that making something smaller, and pink, makes it suitable for women.

    I’m one of the weirdos. In the Myers-Briggs personality types, I’m not only in the smallest group, but since it’s the only one of the 16 types with a gender bias, I’m in the smaller 1/3 of the smallest group, and I’m just wired to think more like a woman than a man. (It’s been a big hit with my wife. Yes, I love shopping. No, I don’t shave my legs.)

    I’m working on what will probably be my 10th book (somewhere down the months) which will be called “How To Do Business With Women When You’re Not One” which will hopefully include all the stuff I’ve learned from being me, and having two brothers, one 18 months older than me, one 18 months younger than me, who are solidly and decidedly male.

    Oh; you asked a question.

    It’s not about *physical* gender, it’s about *emotional* gender. Someone who thinks like a woman should be creating the marketing directed at women. I don’t care what body parts they have, I care how they think.

    And, yes, even when it comes to personal development, psychology, whatever; someone who understands me is going to be more effective at helping me. Extrapolate that.

  16. Diane Oraif says:

    Let me first qualify myself that I am an adult woman.

    I have also browsed through the mentioned book, but not read it fully. Lest it be used to influence those marketing professionals led astray by it, I will add my comments.

    Most women I am forced to be with (as opposed to those I choose to be with) are so manipulated by media and pop culture that they have nothing in common with me, and wouldn’t have a clue as to how to market to someone like me. I maintain that we live in a controlled environment, with female behavior being shaped by culture, media and entertainment.

    By the way, where do men get, you know, things? They don’t go to malls? My husband gets his bluejeans at the mall. Do other women buy their men’s things for them? My husband prefers to pick out his own things–but then being a foreigner he doesn’t play along with the game plan our consumer culture set in front of us, while trying to shape us into predictable servants at the beck and call of our retailer-masters.

    I have mental visions of the t.v.-hypnotized family at the trip to the mall, with the 10 year old son looking down at the game boy while the 11 year old girl whines between her i-phone text messages, “I want the Victoria’s Secret sweat pants, not the ones from Aeropostole.” The pouting brats disappear into the stores’ endless rows and rounders of cheap imported clothing and merchandise and Mom feels a momentary relief. Dad has pushed all this responsibility off on Mom, while as he physicaly accompanies her to the mall his mind goes out to the lake in his $15,000 bass boat, where he would really rather be instead of watching Mom have to deal with these spoiled brats. This is more a sickness of our consumeristic society that pushes people to alienate themselves and each other through their toys, and so they can enjoy them, forces the role of responsibility for the real life things onto women. Watch it tell us how to play the game in People magazine, with their articles on celebrity moms, with every issue featuring yet another clone of the latest country music singer blonde woman saying, “How we fell in love.” (She gets to produce more celebrity babies to drag to the malls and stores on Rodeo Drive!) Meanwhile, its as if we are to dream of being like Angelina Jolie or Elin Woods, kids in tow, wearing designer sunglasses. It’s a system, and it’s set up to control into a direction beneficial to them our brainwaves, the very way Louann Brizendine would have us believe are predestined long before birth. I tell my husband, yes, I am cancelling the free trial offer that in a stupid moment at a retail store I agreed to for three months free. This is mind-garbage being thrown at me to kick me into shape so I am the right kind of consumer I am supposed to be. No wonder my friends from other countries laugh at Consumerism American Style.

    I think the woman’s brain book appears to be waste of time, bent on promoting the biases many including myself have tried to eradicate. Psycologist David Peterzell confirmed my suspicians, when he wrote: “The author consistently confuses neural structure (brain) with psychological function (mind, mental performance, emotions, behavior). This is a huge error.” I see a long list of negative reviews similarly stated on Amazon. To expand on the Peterzell critique, pyschology is shaped at least in part by environment, not just heredity.

    I remain firm in my belief that most–not all–of the differences between genders are cultural and environmental. These perceived differences benefit retailers in many, many ways.

    I have quite a few friends from other cultures, in that I worship in a mosque–basically a gathering of representatives from Africa, China, India–practically every inhabited continent. Relatively few North American women get to be in such a good environment. We are a close knit local community of women from many very different countries. Gender differences manifest themselves in different ways. Very few young females from these other countries act like many of the young females in our white North American culture.

    I have read that there are certain movies that fit into the “chick flick” genre, and cars that are “chick cars.” My reaction to those things marketed toward women? They are an insult. Stupid t.v. reality series about spoiled people imbibing in drama filled lives (and we are supposed to believe males don’t have drama), clothes with lower quality but a higher price than the male counterpart, a non-singer who shaves her head and is more famous for the drama in her life than her pop music, unless it’s getting busted for lip-syncing…… I can’t stand the narcissism and pettiness about belly pooches of the women in Sex and the City (Carrie has a horse face) and I have no desire to purchase a “cute” VW Beetle. If I ever act like Carrie’s friends, and scold others for not properly waxing pubic hair, please shoot me. As a result, in real life I have been forced to interact with women who whine about suffering from things that seem so petty to me in comparison to my sisters that came from dire circumstances in other parts of the world.

    North America has become multicultural, so toss the stereotypes. Try marketing toward people, instead of pigeon-holing consumers. Give me a good product–dreamed up by either gender– or service at a price that makes it reasonable, and you don’t have to “profile” me, or trick me into buying.

    • Also have to say thanks to Diane Oraif–excellent. Exactly. Yes 🙂

    • caitlyn says:

      This is a stupid question. I can’t believe on International Women’s Day I am responding to this, but I wanted to honour some of the thoughtful rhetoric like Diane’s – although Diane I think your stereotype of the family is a bit harsh. But, I get it.

      Why do I say this is a stupid question? Because it doesn’t matter. Nothing we say about it will change the fact that we are more like each other than frogs are like each other. Apparently, frogs, who have been evolving for eons longer than we have, have an enormous amount of diversity – even between frogs of the same frog family. We, on the other hand, have minute differences between us – even if we could find the most different people on the planet & compare them.

      If we want to talk about differential marketing, let’s talk about culture. Maybe it will make some difference if I’m westcoast Canadian versus westcoast American. Maybe not. Am I different from easterners? Some. But, I am definitely different in my tastes than a Japanese teenager living in a big city in Japan. Maybe. Does this mean that a Japanese teen could not come up with a marketing scheme or product that I would absolutely love? Of course he or she could do this.

      I get that paying attention to what the market would like has positive results for a bottom line, but the resulting homogeneity of cultures and individuals has alarming implications for future humans. Even niche marketing strikes me as an uncomfortable habit if I imagine trying to find who is marketing to my niche, buying from them, and losing a modicum of eclecticism because my tastes will never be fully met in any niche.

      If my market is “people like me” – which is the underlying assumption in this question – I still wouldn’t be looking at people with breasts any more hopefully than those without. I might, however, get a glimmer in my eye when someone shows up in brightly coloured high-top Vans with skulls on them!

      And, Joel Canfield, what’s your Myers-Briggs profile? Because the men who have taken this test don’t generally match your result might not mean you have more womanly emotional brain. I wonder if we’ll get to duke out the idea of the gendered brain on The Business Heretics radio show tomorrow? 10 am. March 9th! It’s a call in show, folks, this isn’t supposed to be the topic, but if you call it kinda becomes your call – I think. Go to http://businessheretics.com & find the Radio button.

  17. Hi,

    Have been following only a short time and here we already have a topic I’ve hashed over many times, in one way or another, with friends on and offline. I have a lot of thoughts but I’ll try to keep it short 🙂

    First off, I don’t know any women who like malls lol I get what I need and end of story.

    Second: I needed something delivered this morning. I stopped at the FedEx store. The clerk (a man around 50) was so weird or condescending or something. I realized that he probably was flirting (I think) or, more like, he was talking to me in a way that he imagined I wanted or needed (he was giggly, or something, but it came off as condescending and irritating, maybe sleazy). The deal didn’t work out for me so I went to the US Post, somewhat annoyed but I shrugged it off (like, whatever).

    There, a man of similar age gave me just what I needed: business-like delivery of facts, figures, and service with friendliness. Thank you.

    Maybe the first guy would display his poor customer service skills to a man or a woman, but I believe the second man delivers appropriately to almost anyone. What do you need? Here is what we offer as a solution. Isn’t that what it’s about? No matter whether it’s a man or a woman with a need, don’t we do the research to find out what they need? Must we be the same gender to deliver?

    Also, who runs Walmart, Target, grocery stores, and any other retail outlet that primarily women or a lot of women frequent? Is that all women behind the scenes (no…). Isn’t it more about demographics? Are things done in a small town Walmart the same way as in suburbia? (doubtful) Isn’t it more about need-solution? What about all the women’s clothing designers who are and have been men?

    Does Home Depot and Lowe’s depend on women to market to women? I’m not sure, but I wonder. Frankly I just need facts and figures when I go to buy some paint or a saw or whatever lol not a “Do-it-herself” seminar but I hear they’re popular. Did a woman think that up?

    Also the artists (music, art ) I have followed are usually men, in the main. Currently Matt Bellamy (Muse), before that…Robert Smith, Michael Stipe, Bowie, Bono, etc mostly men but throw in the likes of Dolores O’Reardon (Cranberries) and Natalie Merchant. Same with literature and poetry, fine art…I think it all depends on the individual taste. Celine Dion? What huh? lol

    What about female authors writing from a male point of view? Anne Rice comes to mind (I’ve done it myself in poetry). Male authors writing from female? Leo Tolstoy Anna Karenina. DH Lawrence Women in Love, Thomas Hardy Tess of the D’urbervilles, What’s his name Memoir of a Geisha…I could go on.

    I think Jason said it well. Down deep we’re all pretty much the same. But as for designing products and experiences: sure, a different approach, say, for more traditionally feminine women and not-so-girly women, and different approaches for manly-men and not-so-worried-about-manly sorts of men (you don’t do things the same way in a hunting and fishing store as you do in the mens department at Nordstrom 🙂 Can a woman or a man understand that stuff? Sure, why not.

    Thanks for the food for thought 🙂

    Leah

  18. Karanime says:

    As it stands, men who revel in their manliness should stick to creating things for their own gender. Women who revel in their womanliness, ditto.

    Tomboys and effeminate men can obv. create for the opposite gender, since that’s who they spend their time around.

    And, if you neglect gender altogether, and would prefer it stay mostly out of your identity, you can create for either gender, but you’ll be most comfortable creating products that similarly discount gender.

    /<3

  19. Hugh says:

    Conventional wisdom says that in order to be a successful marketer, you should be your market, or at least know it like the back of your hand. I don’t think you have to be a woman to create and market products to women, but you need to know women extremely well. There aren’t any arbitrary gender boundaries.

    I love the “man-prison” euphemism! I was in man-prison all day Saturday actually and I found it quite the people-watching experience!

  20. Pat says:

    It’s my opinion that if men had breasts, seat belts would be a lot more comfortable.

    And, “Forever and Ever, Amen” by Randy Travis sends absolute shivers through me. Still!

    Conclusion: It depends.

    Cio
    -Pat

  21. I think the man-prison comment was pretty funny ;). I don’t know that it’s necessarily a reason not to design products for women though – I think it’s a reason not to design products for the “mall-enjoying” market.

    I suspect there are also *women* out there that don’t like going to malls, and don’t like taking part in some of the activities that happen during a trip to the all – perhaps window shopping, hunting for bargains, trying on fragrance and other product samples, etc.

    So, while I think the comment was funny, perhaps a better definition of a mall is “time-optimizer prison”. Because that’s why I don’t like going – it’s not the best use of my time 😉

  22. There are many successful products out there for women that men have created. Some of the best fashion designers for women are men. Women know that the best hair stylist are men. I think that pretty much answers the question for me.

    I also think it’s just a matter of knowing your clientele. Regardless of whether you are male or female.

  23. Ivan Walsh says:

    Men shop, women browse!

  24. Anne Wayman says:

    Maybe… best kitchen I every cooked in had been designed by a man… who also cooked. Most of the kitchen’s I’ve cooked in were designed by men who don’t cook.

    Maybe it’s not about gender but experience?

    I mean so many gay guys get decorating, or am I being sexist now?

  25. Anne Wayman says:

    btw, malls often feel like prisons to me too… sigh

  26. Christine says:

    Since when are all women the same? I hate some of the women-designed stuff and love others. I love some things that are male-designed and hate others.

    Many women (like me) do not like shopping — and certainly not malls. Some men, like my husband, enjoy certain types of shopping (Home Depot, Costco) and are more likely to be found picking up something at the mall than their wives.

    Congrats on a great debate question (and I LOVE the prison tweet) but PLEASE move us into the new millenium on this topic and drop the “women like this” “men like that” — even on the emotional-thinking-type proposed above.

  27. Verilliance says:

    I don’t think men are incapable of creating products or services that work for women. I’ve enjoyed music, products, services, and blogs created by men.

    I don’t really think it’s a question of that. I think it’s more a question of should men continue to dominate leadership and creation, and the answer to that is no.

    Men and women all have something to contribute, and the sooner we get to a point when both are valued equally and for their unique differences, the more everyone benefits. Yah?

  28. y. says:

    Of course. Gender has nothing to do with whether someone can do something or not. Some men know much better about women than some women know them about themselves. Ability of being aware about themselves and surroundings has nothing to do with gender or sex.

  29. Kate says:

    Hi Jonathan, thank you for the thought provoking post. I think the different genders bring something different to the table either way. Also wanted to say thank you for the re-Set mention, and let you and your readers know the early bird ticket sales end tomorrow! Registration is here: http://www.certain.com/system/profile/form/index.cfm?PKformID=0x86985959d4

  30. This made me think about the production and consumption of goods, services and images too. We all base our responses to these stimuli on our cultural experiences. These can be vastly different within a gender too, so there is no guarantee that something designed by a woman will be that much more appealing to all women.

    However, so much of our cultural environment encourages gender conformity so that we often end up responding in these ways whether it’s conscious or not.

    I think the key is thoughtfulness and empathy with the group you are trying to reach and communicate with, whichever gender you are.