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Business development is considerably easier for men, survey finds

By Nick Wilson | |7 minute read

Overwhelmingly, women have a harder time in business development. What lies behind the challenges, and why are women worse off?

“As a younger woman, when I initiated [business development (BD)] activities, it was misinterpreted more than once as a personal invitation, not a professional invitation. I learned to only do BD with another professional, not alone,” a respondent told Prodonovich Advisory.

Recently, Prodonovich Advisory conducted a survey on BD in professional services. Specifically, the survey asked whether BD – strategic efforts in pursuit of long-term business growth – is more difficult for women than men. The answer: a resounding yes.


Seventy-two per cent of surveyed individuals said BD is harder for women than men, while fewer than 3 per cent said the opposite. That said, the majority of respondents (63.3 per cent) said that it has gotten easier over the past five years.

Let’s unpack the results of the survey to answer why BD can often be more challenging for female professionals.

Why is BD harder for women?

1. Workloads

A common theme emerged in the responses gathered in the survey. Namely, men seemed to have an easier time attending “traditional” networking events – from after-work drinks to sporting engagements. Why? Because women are disproportionately shouldering childcare and household duties.

“Women continue to disproportionately carry the burden of family responsibilities, leaving them with less opportunity to engage in BD activities on top of core [business as usual] work,” a respondent said.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, women spend far more time on unpaid work than do men. On average, only 42 per cent of men spend time on housework each day, while the vast majority of females (at 70 per cent) do.

“BD is often done before or after work events; as a general rule, women are the default parent and carry the mental load of the household. This means attending BD before or after hours requires significant organising and is not always possible,” reported the same respondent.

This dynamic is not restricted to households. In the workplace, women are also more likely to take on the thankless jobs. As noted by another survey respondent: “Women disproportionately carry the responsibility for other non-promotable tasks such as recruitment, mentoring, office management, further reducing opportunities to focus on BD activities.”

2. Cultural factors

Behind these gender roles are certain norms or cultural expectations as to how members of each gender should be expected to behave.

As noted by Prodonovich Agency: “To many of us, it may seem incredible that highly successful professional women should be treated any differently from men. However, one of the most prevalent themes in your responses was the observation that outdated notions of gender relations still existed in the professions.”

Gender norms extend not only to what kind of roles people are expected to fill – healthcare, for instance, is “highly feminised” – but beyond to how certain roles are performed.

Research shows that people are more likely to associate leadership roles with men rather than women. Similarly, 75 per cent of people associated men with career-related words, like “business, profession, and work”, while associating words like “family, household, and caregiving” with women.

“There is still a perception in disputes that a female lawyer isn’t going to be aggressive enough (even if the client doesn’t want an aggressive strategy). How many times have I heard that we need to engage senior counsel (older male) for some ‘gravitas,’” one respondent answered.

3. Impostor syndrome

Many female respondents said, regardless of their seniority, they continued to be dogged by persistent self-doubt – often presenting as a kind of “impostor syndrome”. Respondents also said that men are more likely to “gild the lily” – or heighten their achievements – while women are more likely to understate their accomplishments.

“Men seem to be able to talk up their practices and themselves without worrying about being ‘found out’. I see male colleagues going into BD and relationship meetings far less prepared than I ever would, but they still seem to be held in high regard by clients,” a respondent shared.

Indeed, a KPMG study found that 75 per cent of women across all industries have experienced impostor syndrome at some point during their careers. That same study, however, found that impostor syndrome, while being experienced at comparable rates between genders, presented in different ways between women and men.

Men who suffer from impostor syndrome, the study found, are more likely to avoid challenges, while women with impostor syndrome are more likely to take on challenges to prove their worth but are never relieved of associated stress and anxiety regardless of the outcome of those additional challenges.

“I think women generally are less confident, and so ‘talking up’ their business skills and abilities doesn’t come as naturally – as an overthinker, I err on the side of saying less, which I believe has been perceived as me not being as knowledgeable as more vocal counterparts,” said another respondent.



According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, discrimination occurs when one individual or group of people is regarded less favourably than another because of their origins or certain personality traits. When a regulation or policy is unfairly applied to everyone yet disadvantages some persons due to a shared personal trait, that is also discrimination.

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson is a journalist with HR Leader. With a background in environmental law and communications consultancy, Nick has a passion for language and fact-driven storytelling.