Not just girl talk

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Carleton Fiorina, Anne Mulcahy and Andrea Jung are names you probably know.

These women are the top executives of Hewlett-Packard, Xerox and Avon Products, respectively. But they represent more than just a handful of women reaching top-level management positions at multinational corporations. They are validating the many ways in which the standard terms of doing business have changed.

In times of war, women have always filled labor voids in fields and factories. Today, women in management ranks represent the inevitable progression of a work force that has, over the last quarter of a century, become infiltrated by female professionals reaching executive levels at almost every company.

Women-owned businesses in the United States are growing three times faster than any other segment. Women executives at public companies are reaching top-management status at similar rates.

While you might not be affected by (or care that) Anne Mulcahy is president of Xerox, you have no doubt noticed that many of your human resource policies have been revamped over the last few years. From more liberal flex-time rules to federal maternity leave laws, the policies that govern your work force have evolved drastically, and many are the result of demands made by the growing force of female workers.

But those aren’t the only noticeable changes women have brought to the workplace over the last years. The ways in which we socialize and exchange leads with each other is now affecting more than just the women we network with; it affects the men we do business with, too.

Not all deals can be made on a golf course these days. Women have figured something else out, too — That a willingness to be vulnerable, to let down your guard during a business transaction, can build a virtually indestructible bridge with a client.

Just as men found that bond on the greens, women are finding possibly stronger bonds through personal connections.

The other day, I heard our sales manager, Scott, trying to pacify a woman client who was upset about our company’s billing terms. (For the record, Scott is not only a great salesperson, but one of the most considerate people I know.)

After many faxes and voice mails among the client, Scott and our office manager, I got the impression that the advertiser was what we would simply label as difficult. So difficult, in fact, that the next time I saw the sales rep (who is no longer with the company) who had originally made the sale, I quizzed her on how she had managed to close such a tough deal.

“A hard sell? she laughed. “We would have coffee and cigarettes together and talk about men. I don’t even remember having to sell her at all.”

So when you think of companies like 84 Lumber and Fidelity Investments and J. Crew, don’t just acknowledge their phenomenal success stories; acknowledge also the changes these women owners are carving out for every workplace. Connie Swenson ([email protected]) is editor of SBN Magazine.