Or the Secret Power of Being a Consumer
Here’s yet another way female roles are changing to give us more power in the business world: we buy stuff, lots of it.
“At the same time that their managerial representation is growing, women also make and influence purchasing decisions,” the research organization Catalyst finds. “In 2001, women earned almost $2 trillion of income in the United States.”15
We like to shop and $2 trillion is a lot of spending money. As every marketer knows, with purchasing power come demands, and we want to buy from people who understand our tastes and needs. That means we want to buy from women—not just female salespeople, but also female designers, advertisers, and suppliers as well.
“As a result,” Catalyst continues, “the company that leverages its female talent internally will be better able to develop products and services that could appeal to its external customers.” That is economist-speak for: employ more women in senior positions and you will produce the types of cars, kitchens, and Caribbean holidays that women actually want to buy. Add in a senior female salesperson on your shop floor and your firm will do better still.
Here’s a four-wheeled example of how changing consumer patterns are affecting entire industries.
We bet you didn’t know that women now buy more cars than men. Yes, that bastion of male influence is becoming a little softer.
In 2007 women broke the automobile halfway mark and bought 53 percent of all cars in the United States—and we influenced 85 percent of all car purchases.16
This is affecting the car industry as a whole, from the design to the sales floor. Just like men, we want performance, features, and design, but Ford has found that women want those things differently. For a start we want more safety features, more storage, and more convenience. Toyota has had huge success with female customers—60 percent of all of its passenger cars in the United States are bought by women. Their surveys have taught them that women appreciate practical changes, like grocery bag hooks in the trunks. Indeed, their focus groups reinforce classic, almost humorous gender differences. All of the women spent time inspecting the inside of the cars, looking at how comfortable they and their passengers would be, while the men examined the outside of the vehicles, commenting on design and horsepower.
But there are some things we do care about on the outside. This isn’t a plug for the car industry, but get this—car designers have even changed the shape of their door handles to accommodate a woman’s longer fingernails. Now, when car companies are worried about our nails getting chipped, we know we have power.
The feminization of the auto industry doesn’t stop at door handles. Car makers are taking a woman’s point of view into account when it comes to marketing too. That means they need to employ more professional women in all areas of the process—in marketing, advertising, PR, and even sales. And this is the power of Feminizing Ford. If companies have to employ women to appeal to women, those female employees start to have more clout. They can begin to dictate the way they work because they have a value to their companies that cannot be replaced by men.
The power of women as consumers is leaving its mark across industries. In the United States nearly half of all shareholders are women, half of all computers are bought by women, and women are responsible for 83 percent of all consumer purchases. Companies that supply goods and services to other companies or to governments say gender equality has become a competitive necessity. They also say they have lost contracts because sales teams have been too male-dominated.17 Woe to any company that fails to recognize the power of the female purse and the pressing need to employ more of us in order to make sure they are producing, selling, and servicing goods in ways women genuinely need. And of course, in today’s market, as companies scramble to get people buying again—who do you imagine is best suited to convince women to open their purses? Why, other women, of course.
It’s basic. Women now have power in society as voters, decision makers, owners, and consumers. Companies that get a reputation as bad employers or bad producers for women risk jeopardizing their good names; in today’s increasingly competitive, global economy, where news spreads at the click of a mouse, such a reputation can be a business disaster. Businesses that cling to outdated structures risk being out of business. Pretty soon, a lack of diversity becomes simply a risk not worth running.