Candace Bushnell, the “Sex and the City” author, famously once said “Women with money and women in power are two uncomfortable ideas in our society”. But the fact is that the economic power of women as earners, consumers, purchasers and influencers has been growing steadily for decades.
Whilst the media is dominated by issues linked to pay gaps, board membership, career progression and the many obstacles faced
by women, and it is right that we focus on the inequalities and social injustice that still exist for many women today, what is often forgotten is the scale and the extent of the economic power and influence that women have.
Women currently control $20 trillion or 27% of the world’s wealth. In the UK 46% of the 376,000 millionaires are female and 18 women are now in the exclusive billionaires’ club (2016). And this figure is expected to grow as more women enter these power indexes, no longer claiming their position due to family inheritance or divorce settlements.
More women are graduating with degrees, and more women are entering the workforce. Not only are women earning more as they scale professorial and corporate ladders, but they are also setting up businesses at a faster rate than men. One third of businesses in the world are owned by women. In Scotland, over 80,000 businesses are owned by women contributing over £5 billion to the Scottish economy each year, that’s a lot of female buying and influencing power.
Women now represent the largest market opportunity in the world and female consumer purchasing power exceeds the GDP of India and China combined (Forbes 2013). Women are fast becoming “prominent creators of wealth” and it is expected women will control 75% of all household spending by 2028.
The influence of women on the consumer economy is huge, leading many commentators to suggest that if consumer spending had a gender it would be female. Leading gender analysts Catalyst.Org, estimates that, on average, 67% of all UK Household consumption is controlled or influenced by women. And it is much greater in many key household areas.
Women make the decision or influence the purchase of 92% of holidays, 65% of cars, 93% of food, 91% of homes and 61% of PCs and with the extensive and growing use of social networks such as Facebook and sharing of social reviews by women, social media is now playing an increasingly important role in the decision-making process of many women.
In response to this “gender flip” or changing economic dynamic, most consumer businesses and advertising specialists have become much smarter in terms of how they “sell” to women.
Yet this consumer industry experience is not reflected in the response by many other companies to increasing female economic power. However, many organisations do understand that learning from the consumer industry could be vital for them as they look to sell to the growing number of senior female business decision makers, create greater gender diversity in their organisation or recruit and retain more women in their workforce.
Deloitte, a global accounting and consultancy practice, has recognised that the first step to achieving greater diversity within their business is to focus on their clients or customers who are increasingly female decision makers – where a “one size fits all” marketing or sales approach no longer works.
They have effectively transformed their internal HR diversity training into a key business tool, successfully winning more contracts and pitches and at the same time raising levels of awareness of the benefits of gender diversity within their own organisation.
Similarly, many recruitment companies are understanding the impact of language and job advertisements on success rates. #WordsthatWork, an Australian Government initiative has recognised, as in consumer messaging, business words are powerful.
When it comes to recruitment, words can encourage or discourage women from applying for jobs, they can help reduce unconscious bias and provide a broader candidate field. Research suggests that women are less likely to apply for male sounding roles, described as “assertive” or “determined” and similarly for software companies, substituting the word “developer” for “hacker” increases the number of female applicants.
With 71% of social media users’ women and 78% of women using the internet for product information, social marketing is also becoming an increasingly important tool and channel to influence decisions and to engage women on a range of business and work related issues. Studies show that messages on users’ Facebook feeds can significantly influence voter patterns and social media played a key role in influencing decisions in the recent US Presidential elections.
The convergence of the consumer and business world is driving change in our homes, workplaces, communities and society.
More women with more money and more power is something we all need to get used to, uncomfortable or not.
Dr Lesley Sawers
This article first appeared in Business Women Scotland Magazine February 2017