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In conjunction with a recent Coopers & Lybrand L.L.P. (C&L) Women Partners' Leadership Conference, C&L's vice chairman human resources, Iris Goldfein, presented the following overview of a study conducted of female business executives.

What do women perceive as the differences in working styles between men and women? Should professional services firms attempt to match the working styles of their clients by matching their female clients with female staff? How do female executives feel about it?

C&L commissioned Louis Harris & Associates to conduct a telephone survey of 600 mid- to high-level female business executives to find out. Phone interviews were conducted with--

* 200 C&L clients;

* 200 members of a professional women's business group and;

* 200 random female executives of major corporations.

All respondents are buyers of consulting services.


* In most cases, a majority of female executives say

gender does not make a difference in their evaluation of consultants.

* However, a meaningful percentage of respondents

believes it matters. And these women control buying decisions worth millions of dollars.

How do these women perceive the men and women they buy from? What are the perceived strengths and weaknesses these women see? Where do women fare better in women's eyes and where do men still have the upper hand?

Female executives say women--

* are more "responsive" when delivering services by a

5-to-1 margin (12-to-1 margin for the international women's group);

* "work harder" to make sure business needs are met

by a 5-to-1 margin (17-to-1 margin for the international women's group);

* offer a different perspective.

Women executives view women service providers as better than men in the service delivery area. They--

* are "more satisfied" with female consultants when a

project is completed by a 3- or 4-to-1 margin (8-to-1 for the professional women's business group);

* prefer to purchase consulting services from women

8-to-1 (24-to-1 for the professional women's business group);

* 1 in 3 prefer to have long-term professional relation-

ships with women.

* Almost half agree that women professionals set

expectations better than men; and

* 62-to-71% see no difference in technical competence

between women and men.

Men still have a perception advantage in other areas. A slight margin of women executives see men as better at selling;

* 8 in 10 think men get more respect from senior management; and

* 2 out of 3 women think men are "taken more seriously" by senior management. (Interestingly, the professional women's business group members differ: 54% perceive no difference on this item.)

Since professional services are frequently sold based on relationships, it is significant that among the women executives--

* 3 out of 4 think male senior managers are less willing to socialize with female consultants;

* 3 of 4 think women are kept out of social aspects of client relationships.

A large percentage of women executives are looking for gender diversity from their service providers:

* "A consulting team without women is a risk among female business clients";

* 29% of the C&L client group and 32%

of the sample female executive group are less likely to hire a client team without women; and

* 57% of the professional women's business group are less likely to hire a client team without women.

All things being equal, if one team has a woman and the others do not--

* 37% of the C&L clients and 42% of the

female executives are more likely to hire the team with female consultants; and

* 72% of the professional women's business group members are more likely to hire the team with the female consultants.

What Does It Mean?

Professional service firms must have an effective program for developing and deploying female consultants:

* A competitive advantage if used properly;

* A real disadvantage if women not present.

What would help from men?

* Social access

* Respect.

The CPA Journal is broadly recognized as an outstanding, technical-refereed publication aimed at public practitioners, management, educators, and other accounting professionals. It is edited by CPAs for CPAs. Our goal is to provide CPAs and other accounting professionals with the information and news to enable them to be successful accountants, managers, and executives in today's practice environments.

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