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May 2011 Diversity & Inclusion Best Practice

Selling more and increasing profits by taking account of diversity at the customer and client interface

New science and thinking from the UK can have a massive impact on customer satisfaction and sales and British retailers may be the first to benefit.   Some of this cutting-edge thinking will be presented at an evening seminar hosted by Simons, Muirhead and Burton in London, Soho, on Tuesday, 7 June. 

Why does this new science matter?  Historically, organisations have been male-dominated places that are organised according to masculine ways of thinking.  Now, people are waking up to the fact that this masculine way of thinking can be an obstacle to reaching the main consumer who is female.  Research shows that women are responsible for 83% of all consumer purchases with men responsible for just 17% (Barletta 2006).  Moreover, the Boston Consulting Group (Silverstein & Sayre 2009) has observed that “the Companies that respond to women’s unmet needs with skill, nuance and genuine engagement will enjoy breakaway growth, unprecedented customer loyalty and category dominance”.   The flip side, according to Paco Underhill (1999), expert on the science of shopping, is that “women are capable of consigning species of retailer or product to Darwin’s dustbin if that retailer is unable to adapt to what women need and want”.

Yet how often do providers of products, or services, take account of gender differences?   Gloria Moss has shown (Moss 2001, 2006, 2009 and 2010) how what appeals to men can be a turn off to women, with preferences rooted in predispositions dating back to hunter gatherer days.  ‘The man, as hunter, had to target distant moving objects over millennia, so he likes straight lines, three dimensions and little colour’ she says.  ‘By contrast, the woman was the gatherer and needed, for example, to notice ripe and unripe berries so colour, round shapes and a flatter, two-dimensional look are all important to her’ she goes on. Yet, the hunter look is still prevalent in the design of products, packaging and labelling, instore layouts and e-purchasing websites, largely because design is a male-dominated profession.  A recent survey, carried out by Gloria Moss, to measure preferences for instore layouts and responses showed that men’s and women’s’ preferences were poles apart.  This was bad news for many British retailers whose layouts got the thumbs down from many women’ says Gloria. ‘What use is it that these layouts have massive appeal for men if the main customer – women - does not like them?

The scope for change does not end there.  Gloria has also highlighted the hidden assumptions we make in Britain which stand in the way of delivering excellent customer service.   She states that the individualistic, universalistic and low context cultures that typify Britain (Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner, 1998) are actually counter-productive to delivering good customer service in that British people tend to be inwardly focussed, believe in universal rules and put task ahead of building relationships. All of these factors can make it difficult for British client advisors and sales staff to put effort into trying to understand and meet the individualised needs of diverse customers or clients. We need to learn a different way of thinking – borrowing from collectivist, particularist and high context cultures, i.e. Asian or Southern European national cultures – if we are to deliver customer-sensitive service. 

From IDC’s understanding of diversity and inclusion and how to yield the necessary changes needed in organisations managing a transformation from a masculine way of seeing to a feminine one is not easy but the techniques my colleagues and I have developed make this possible. We have found that for optimum success, the selling process needs to take account of gender predisposition tendencies with women more predisposed to be outcomes oriented, perfectionist, conscientious and affiliative than men (Glowinkowski 2009). This means that they tend to shop more carefully; want more detailed signage and labelling; prefer advisors and sales people to adopt a more rapport based approach to any conversations with them about products or services.

Another issue on which IDC has considerable expertise are the workings of unconscious bias.  Organisations in both the private and public sectors have historically evolved with men in power and this has resulted in the almost universal adoption of the masculine ‘script’. An American Harvard Professor, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, observed as early as 1974 that “this ‘masculine ethic’ elevates the traits assumed to belong to men with educational advantages to necessities for effective organizations: a tough minded approach to problems; analytical abilities to abstract and plan; a capacity to set aside personal, emotional considerations in the interests of task accomplishment; a cognitive superiority in problem-solving and decision making”.   We have found that working in a masculine culture can put women in a stressful position.  ‘Women are expected to conform to the male script and this can manifest itself in their being interrupted in conversation and being listened to less carefully than men’.  Moreover, the gender predisposition difference tendencies research has shown that women tend to be less assertive and less confident than men and this means that the customer or client experience for women will be greatly enhanced if they feel that they are listened to attentively and that their needs are understood and appreciated. 

IDC’s experience is that training to raise staff awareness of the issues raised here and developing important interactive skills, e.g. active listening, checking understanding, seeking information, acknowledging information received, can have a very positive impact. However, the training and development needs to be reinforced by the behavioural example of senior management. This requires a longer term intervention of coaching and feedback to enable them to adopt, and be role models in, the behaviours which embrace differences in gender or culture at the customer or client interface. Clearly, the impact on sales can be dramatic by truly appreciating and meeting the different needs of diverse customers.

At the 7 June evening seminar Makbool Javaid, a leading discrimination lawyer, will present information on how to avoid claims of indirect discrimination. Gloria Moss, Reader in Management and Marketing at Bucks New University and Visiting Professor at a French Grande Ecole will present her ground-breaking research on design, marketing and customer service.   Dr Ian Dodds, a thought leader on unconscious bias and achieving inclusivity in the work and marketplaces, will discuss what needs to be done in the workplace to ensure new thinking can take root and Suzanne Gordon, a retail expert from IKEA, will give the retailer’s perspective.  This will be a state of the art event with Paul Brady, an interactive theatre specialist, illustrating the issues described here with drama scenarios.

If you want to learn more about this unique event on 7 June and the new science that will help you to increase sales, please email:  events@smab.co.uk.

Dr Ian Dodds,


28 Apr 2011

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