By Kathleen Burns Kingsbury
As an actuarial consultant, you’ve probably had a lot of experience working with men. However, with the rise of women as a major economic force, one question remains. Are you prepared to meet the needs of your female clients in your actuarial practice? It is not safe to assume that the manner in which you have always operated with your male clients is sufficient for interactions with your female clients. The “rules of the road” for navigating the female culture are often different than the ones in a man’s world and to be successful you need to know them.
According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, between 2008 and 2009, women-owned firms have a $3 trillion economic impact annually and account for the creation or maintenance of 23 million jobs. On top of this, women-owned businesses are growing at twice the national rate of any other group. With numbers like these, you’re likely working with more female clients than ever before. Women communicate, relate, and learn differently than men. Therefore, if you want to capture and retain your share of this growing demographic, you need to learn key gender differences and implement practical strategies that demonstrate you are a female friendly actuary.
Here are a few things to keep in mind, which will help you better understand and feel more comfortable working with women.
Women get personal quickly.
The best way to observe this phenomenon is to set up a networking appointment with a female and a male colleague for the same day. Notice how much time he spends proving his expertise and how much time she uses to talk about what you two have in common. Neither way of networking is better than the other, but this example does highlight how female clients want to know that you have something in common with them.
Women remember details and read body language.
Women excel at reading facial expressions and body language, and remembering details. Some people surmise that this is due to a woman’s natural instincts as a caregiver. She is wired to read facial and body cues and to respond quickly to make sure those in her care remain safe. Whatever the reason, making eye contact, communicating interest through nonverbal communication, and paying attention to details are very important in the female culture. A male client might not care if you follow up after each meeting with a note to say thank you, but doing so with a woman may mean the difference between keeping a client and losing one.
Women think with real-life goals and objectives.
When you are communicating your findings to clients, most women prefer to hear performance results relative to real-life goals and objectives. In your meetings, be sure to communicate what these numbers actually mean in terms of her business objectives. You can still report results relative to standard benchmarks, but know that this may work well for the male client but leave the female client flat.
Women want to be listened to.
You do listen, but as an actuary, you were trained to listen to find solutions and solve dilemmas, not to validate feelings. This traditional listening method is very masculine and works well with the male brain. See a problem—fix it. When it comes to building trust with female clients, this problem-solving approach leaves women feeling unheard and frustrated. Part of this disconnect in communication happens because men and women build trust in relationships in different ways. Women get to know each other by sharing stories. Conversely, men learn to trust each other by participating in an activity together. Your female client wants to tell you about her life and her business, she wants you to be curious and ask questions. Knowing and factoring in this gender difference to your communication and listening style is an important key to establishing and fostering trust with your female clients.
Women are loyal.
Once trust is established, women are extremely loyal friends, employees, and clients. Because being in relationships is what defines them and brings them pleasure, women work diligently to establish, maintain, and preserve their personal and professional relationships. This loyalty is why women refer more friends, family members, and colleagues to financial advisors than men do. According to Delia Passi, author of Winning the Toughest Customer: The Essential Guide to Selling to Women, a female client is likely to make referrals 26 times in her lifetime, whereas a man is likely to refer only 11 times.
By learning these rules of the feminine world, you will connect, communicate and advise female clients more effectively. Take the time to ask your women clients to tell you more about their worldview and listen carefully. By being curious about their experiences, your female clients will feel appreciated, and they will know you are truly interested in them as people, not just assets.
1H. Pordeli and P. Wynkoop, The Economic Impact of Women-Owned
Businesses in the United States, White Paper, Center for Women’s Business Research, McLean, VA, October 2009; and Key Facts About Women-Owned Businesses (2008–2009), http://www.womensbusinessresearchcenter.org/ research/keyfacts/.
About the Author:
Kathleen Burns Kingsbury is a wealth psychology expert and founder of KBK Wealth Connection, and author of several books including How to Give Financial Advice to Women and How to Give Financial Advice to Couples, both published by McGraw-Hill. For more information, visit kbkwealthconnection.com.