Women rise to the top of the business food chain

Six out of 10 companies reported an increase in female decision-makers among their B2B customers. Six out of 10 companies reported an increase in female decision-makers among their B2B customers.

As more women rise to senior levels within their organisations, a growing number are in charge of what their companies buy from other companies.

This has major implications for business as women use different criteria to men in decision making, including during business to business (B2B) transactions.

In a study, conducted by A.T. Kearney, an American consultancy firm, and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), over 200 B2B companies were analysed, in order to understand the growing influence of women buyers.

Six out of 10 companies reported an increase in female decision-makers among their B2B customers and acknowledged that a different approach was needed to do business with this new category of senior women managers. Yet, only a handful has actually changed their approach.

A.T. Kearney found that South Africa reveals a similar picture, by conducting interviews with a number of senior women executives, amongst them Nicky Newton-King, CEO of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE).

The percentage of South African women in the workforce has risen from 40.4% in 1994 to 44.8% in 2012, a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of only 0.6% - according to Statistics South Africa.

A recent report by the Commission for Employment Equity found that the percentage of women in top management has grown from 14% in 2002, to 20% in 2012 - a higher (albeit still slow) CAGR of 4% and (in total numbers) a far cry from equitable representation.

These numbers are supported by the sentiments expressed by some female executives, who believe that South Africa is making progress, with more and more women in core business roles and in senior positions. But they say in general the pace of change is slow.

Some organisations are exceeding these statistics, for example more than half of the executive committee members for the JSE are women. In fact, the JSE has reached a tipping point and now “focuses more broadly on diversity than specifically on increasing the number of women in the organisation,” said Nicky Newton-King.

This growing representation of women in top positions means that women are more often at either the buying or selling ends of B2B transactions. A.T. Kearney’s interviews revealed, without exception, that women use different criteria to men in decision making, including during B2B transactions. Whereas on the whole, men use facts and logic.

“Women have a higher balance between intuition and evaluation of facts in decision making,” says Lindi Dlamini, Managing Director at Alexander Forbes Retail Holdings.

Women tend to work much more on relationships over and above the facts and “place much greater emphasis on the fit, providing a balanced view,” says Sindisiwe Koyana, Executive Chair of Advance Capital, and women are usually much more inclusive and consultative in their decision making approach and in their general management style.

In spite of these differences, it appears that very few companies are actually factoring these dynamics into their sales approach and there are low levels of awareness of the importance of women in the decision making process, especially amongst men.

This might be because South Africans are still focused on fighting the battle to get more women voices around the top table. Most of the interviewees felt that some of the traditional barriers still exist and women are at a disadvantage before they even start the business engagement. For example, some of A.T. Kearney’s interviewees felt that women in South Africa have to doubly prove their technical competencies before being recognised and acknowledged in the same way men are.

There are other barriers to fully leveraging the talents of South Africa’s women. In most instances, the workplace is still not conducive to working outside the office. This, for most women is the flexibility they require in order to be successful.

“The best organisations are alive to the dynamics of conditions that need to be in place for women,” says Lindi Dlamini.

While very few companies in South Africa have thought about the competitive advantage of female behaviour in B2B, diversity in the workplace was cited time and again as a major competitive advantage and A.T. Kearney found that most of the South African companies it studied have this on their strategic agenda.

“Diversity is real business strength; you want the different opinions around the table” says Nicky Newton-King.

The rising female economy is one of the main drivers of workforce diversity and inclusion and it can help give South African companies the competitive advantage they need in the global market.

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