What Do Women Want?


med_Pamelas_Mug_copy55Yes, it might be deemed sexist? Why not an issue on just men? Because women are the largest consumers of products and services in the global marketplace. Because women are a larger proportion of the population and vote at higher rates, about 7.8 million more women than men voted in the 2000 elections.  Because women are projected to account for 51.2 percent of the increase in total labor force growth between now and 2018.

So what do women want?
Putting aside the Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus perception, marketing managers and researchers are anxious to know what women are thinking about regarding today’s stalled economy, healthcare and changing global activities (war, illegal immigration, national security) that have transformed and disturbed everyone’s lives in one way or another.

It’s not like women are any more special than men nor do they play a more important role in solving our problems.

The reason so much research and surveys focus on women is that women comprise the majority of the U.S. electorate and have influenced electoral outcomes for more than 40 years and in addition they continue to make the majority of household purchasing decisions.

Women’s role as primary caregivers means they play an essential role in buying things that provide sustenance for home and family. Studies show that women are responsible for buying 85 percent of consumer goods and influencing over 95 percent of total goods and services purchased.
For obvious reasons corporations, business owners and marketers want to know what they think about, what they want to buy, how to influence their vote.

The workplace is a changing environment with women-owned businesses a fast-growing segment of our national and state economies.  There are well over 10 million majority-owned, privately-held, women-owned firms in the U.S., employing 19 million people and generating $2.32 trillion in sales. Oregon ranks 10th in the nation in percent of women-owned businesses according to 2002 data (that was eight years ago and the number of women-owned businesses continues to increase).

What Do Women Want in the Workplace?
The Eugene M. Lang Center for Entrepreneurship at Columbia Business School and the Duran Group have issued a new study: What Women Want in Business: A Survey of Executives and Entrepreneurs, a landmark analysis on women executives in the U.S. who are exiting the corporate world for small business and entrepreneurship opportunities.

Among the reasons cited are the opportunity to take risks, a seat at the decision-making table and generous compensation for their performance.

Seventy-eight percent of the women in the study pointed to the opportunity to take risks with new ideas and test personal limits as the chief reason for leaving jobs with large companies to move into smaller, entrepreneurial businesses. The chance to make more money influenced 67 percent to move, while the ability to impact strategy was the third major reason, cited by 65 percent. Forty-one percent listed more time for family/personal interests as a deciding factor.

Women tend to measure their success differently than men, often citing monetary compensation lower on the hierarchy looking beyond mere profit or growth figures when assessing their business. They value business excellence (such as positive customer relations), professional achievement (having control over their career) and personal satisfaction (balancing work/life demands and giving back).

There is a discrepancy in pay between men and women. The average female entrepreneur earns $30,000/year compared to $50,000 for their male counterparts. Some suggest this might have to do with women working less hours in order to be more flexible with their family lives (I’m really not sure who those women are, the ones I know who juggle work and family seem to work as much or more than their male counterparts).

Full-time, year-round women employees are paid on average only 78 percent of what men are paid; for women of color, the gap is significantly wider.  This makes the United States tied for forty-fourth (with Angola, Estonia, and Russia) in women’s pay. Kenya ranked first, with women earning 83 percent of what men earned.

It is important to note that women’s choices regarding work are complex. They want a work environment that is safe, interesting and flexible where they can develop their skills and earn enough to take care of their families. Traditionally women have not asked for what they’re worth and in today’s climate they are more likely just to be happy to have a job.  They don’t have time to think about American Idol, immigration reform, political sex scandals, the swine flu or 66-year old women having babies.

The Gap
It is impossible to divide the life experiences and attitudes of American women into simple conservative or liberal categories. As women take more than their political ideology to the polls, politicians must be cognizant of the life stages, as well as the demographic categories, into which women fall.

A women’s educational background, her marital status, even her sexual preferences and family history will have a major influence on how she votes, where she shops and what she ultimately purchases. A woman at 48 might be single or married, a mother or a grandmother, a business owner or a college student.  Campaign strategies cannot simply place women in an age category and expect her to vote a certain way.

Since women make most of the purchasing decisions, you would surmise that there would be nothing about the buying habits of women that American businesses don’t know. However, marketing expert and author Mary Lou Quinlan says American businesses are woefully uninformed about women buyers, “sometimes to the point of paying millions for advertising and sales strategies more likely to annoy their target audience than attract them.”

What do you do as a business owner/marketer to entice women to your products or services? Whatever you are selling, from financial services to an airplane, chances are a women will be involved in the decision making process. Either she buys the product herself or she influences the person who does.

The person who really understands what makes women of today buy can give a product a competitive edge by knowing how to design and sell products, direct a successful sales team and write advertising copy directly to the point.

Women are not a niche market, but the primary consumers in the United States. Businesses should identify the best ways to strengthen their customer service to appeal directly to women.  Listen to women via small gatherings, focus groups, forums, e-mail surveys and customer feedback. Remember that marketing materials that use cliché women’s colors (filmy pinks and purples) or focus on “women’s topics,” will not only alienate your male customers but women may be offended by that approach as well.  Reaching women more effectively may seem complicated, but will pay dividends if properly executed.

What do women want?  No one knows for sure, but the effort to find out is much appreciated. pha


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