Workplaces, brands and media that ignore the needs, financial prowess and buying power of women do so at their own peril, writes Bec Brideson.

Much business strategy has been modelled on texts like Sun Tzu’s Art of War. But perhaps this really is our moment to reframe the discussion as John Gerzema, and award-winning author, Michael D’Antonio did with their recent book The Athena Doctrines. They reference hard data from 64,000 people across the globe agreeing that ‘the world would be a better place if men though more like women’. The wily warrior archetype is starting to look pretty out-dated as values such as nurturing, listening, collaborating and sharing are changing the fortunes and profits of boardrooms.

The winner takes all approach of yesteryear is finally being challenged to open the way for a healthier planet without a predilection for combat.

Too often gender discussions wind up in accusatory battle-of-the-sexes arguments, feminist musings and chauvinistic taunts. This actually creates obfuscation around what should be a no-brainer in business: women are a mighty economic force and have the mantel of chief purchasing officer in most homes.

So, women and economics. How did it come about?

Kathy Matsui of Goldman Sachs coined the term back in the 90’s, whilst modelling ways to keep Japan’s economy buoyant despite a shrinking and greying workforce. For Japan women in the workforce remains an imperative, not a diversity issue.

Women’s participation en masse in the workforce actually drove women into a stage of economic independence and ultimately now, economic influence. As women have earned salaries and household incomes have increased women have become dual business operators – in the workplace by day, and in the home by night. The second shift, as it is commonly referred to, creates muscles of ‘operational excellence’ in women who are essentially CEOs of their homes.

Think about it – they manage all departments – health, finance, education, tourism, transport and even aged care. It is a very full schedule to pack into an evening. But this responsibility and role is what makes women the most influential consumer audience with nine out of 10 purchases falling into her job description.

True, we are starting to see a growing trend where this role in homes is becoming more gender-balanced and society is waking up to smell the equality.

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The likes of Anabell Crabb’s The Wife Drought spurs a review of the traditional roles of Dad as breadwinner and Mum as nurturer. This literature helps to create openings for men to enjoy the home and hearth without fear of judgement or fear of career backslide suicide.

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In incites women to push themselves forward and not let parenthood arrest their professional development. Both of these recommendations are starting to catch on. The more enlightened men are recognising this is an enriching life-experience worth pursuing, and women are seeking out this kind of DNA as ‘perfect husband’ pre-requisites. True.

 

A renaissance for humankind

It was just over 100 years ago that women were granted the right to vote in Australia, so lets not beat anyone up that we’ve inherited the past we did. And only in the last three decades has the effect of the Equal Opportunity Act made its impact felt. Men have been in positions of power in most industries, which is what makes them such an essential part of driving a new vision.

This is the moment to create new models and deliberately study innovation around women: as if a renaissance of humankind. Rather than be mealy-mouthed about the forefathers, or building higher walls at the boys clubhouse, its time to open our arms wide and embrace each other in a mindset for growth.

Recognising that such a shift needs to be made is the first step in creating better behaviours and a wider scope for us all.

 

Three factors driving change

Women’s financial prowess combined with society’s move from a male lens, allows us all to see gender diversity in the workforce from a more informed vantage point.

From consultancy firms including McKinsey and Ernst and Young, studies have proven the financial upside of a non-homogenous culture and the link with success.

Upwards of 15% more profitability, higher return on equity and sales. In a gender- balanced culture ideas flow, and possibilities open up. This is what we must focus on for the big-game win. There are those like Grayson Perry who declared in his article ‘The Default Man:’ “For talented black, female and working-class people to take their just place in the limited seats of power, some of those Default Men are going to have to give up their seats”.

This is an understandable corollary when you see the discussion presented in this manner. But what if we changed the rules to an abundance mentality to consider everyone? Perhaps we could change the governance and expand the number of the seats at the table? Seems every solution has a problem! When can we solve this then?

 

The politics of women’s financial might

There is a certain irony that the discussion of women’s economic consumer power is turned into a he against she battleground. It means that the rational profit-earning possibility is lost because the wrong discussion gets the airtime. When the three Fs of the interwebs changed the world we live in – Flat, Free and Fast, they may as well have called it the four Fs.

Female numbers stack up; forever changing the way the world operates.

Women are an economic powerhouse. They are the fastest emerging economy – more than India and China put together twice over. They can make or break a brand, a category and a segment. Hello Nike women. Hello Apple. Welcome to the game of the female consumer. Now is the time for innovation and for changing the rules of engagement.

Women are looking for products that understand their needs and get ther perspective. This is the golden age for brands to meet her needs and #getthechicks.

 

The new lens will make better focus

Elon Musk is flipping the auto industry and we are discussing the driverless car as a when not an ‘if’. Talk about a revolution. So why not see revolution everywhere for women?

As a kid I often wondered why the news captured the interest of my dad, not my mum. Perhaps it was an issue of being time-poor, Mum juggling the day shift, the second shift, and then the night shift of her Masters degree. But as I have reached milestones I’ve seen something more.

The nightly news is a pattern of ‘the days events’ followed by a section of ‘sport’ and if you are lucky a good news story after the weather. Imagine if ‘news’ was ‘the day’s events’ followed by a ‘human interest story’ before the weather?

Sport is on one hundred and one specialty channels for sports lovers. Society could benefit from a story that gives us life skill and insights. As story telling is on the rise as a discipline it might just be the time to rethink our future audience. There are studies that prove that rich emotional content will sustain women’s engagement.

Is the format in print valid to the audience of women? It feels like one of those hangovers from the 50’s with the slippered, pipe-smoking dad unwinding after a day with his newspaper and nightly news. Media-magnates might do well to imagine if it were seen through the female lens.

Huffington Post has certainly shown the opportunity is begging. Women’s financial status and purchasing responsibilities open up possibilities for every business to secure female customer loyalty. As the Boston Consulting Group found in their 2009 global study ‘Women Want More’ they are ready to be serviced in a way that meets their parched-needs.

With her increased load juggling she is searching for brands that provide her with more efficiency, more time and even more love. Every business and category has the potential to make this relationship with women work in a way that serves both her and the brand.

 

Start the change

It could be a bumpy road ahead for business that doesn’t actively adapt to the new reality. Women have the power when they are making the purchase. Ignore her at your peril. She will go searching for unmet needs. Brands who are rethinking about her world in a 360 exploration, her demands, her lifelong worth as a customer and brand advocate are thriving.

Those resting on past laurels are just surviving and those who don’t believe it are not even reading these articles – their bias is so unconscious they are incapable of seeing that they are stuck in an era that belongs to older generations. But this change won’t just reach a tipping point. It will flip it.

Buckle up business world… it’s about to get interesting.

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Bec Brideson helps clever companies be commercially smarter with women. With over 24 years experience in the communications industry, Bec was one of 3% of females to become a creative director in the advertising industry. Bec trains and speaks, locally and internationally, on marketing to women, the power of the female economy, and leveraging your brand. Becbrideson.com