‘Women 2020’, a recent report written by Elisa Birtwistle for The Futures Company, explores how changes in women’s thinking and actions have repercussions for popular and consumer culture.
Here, in an edited extract from the report, are 10 ways women are shaping the future.
Economic change outpaces social change
In emerging markets, women’s participation in the formal economy will increase much more rapidly than changes to their social participation.
A new ideal of femininity emerges
New ideals will be based on the millennial notion that experiences and knowledge are the most motivating parts of identity, on a shift away from ideals of female identity based on male expectations, and on a refocus on qualities admired by women in other women.
New audiences for established categories become visible
As women in developing markets gain more autonomy and freedom, they become decision makers for big-ticket items and also, importantly, consumers of previously male-dominated categories. Expect categories with a typically male-dominated consumer base (eg. gaming, automobile, alcohol) to adapt to the opportunity in the female market.
Economists and politicians start taking an interest in work/life decisions
Increasing awareness of women’s lifestyle and life stage decisions will influence the workplace and therefore national economies. Companies with the most women on their boards of directors outperform those with the fewest women on their boards. Return on invested capital is 66% higher in firms with strong female representation. Expect increasing politicisation of childcare.
Forties becomes the new thirties
With the pushing back of life stages, and women experiencing a ‘pause’ in their career progress in their thirties, there will be a new interest in women’s forties. Expect a re-evaluation of the current career model of a steep climb to being established before first child, to what has been called, by Benko and Weisberg, ‘irregular stairstepping’ – meaning that women reach a career peak in their forties when their kids leave for university. Brands will start to take an interest in this opportunity of the new life stage that’s likely to emerge in women’s forties.
The ‘likeability problem’ persists
A key issue which will continue to be a thorn in the side of the new ideal of femininity is how women express and embody success. As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, reminded her audience at a TED talk, “Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.” That is to say, the behaviours and attributes associated with success (assertive, self-confident, and entrepreneurial) make men more likeable and women less so. This has implications for women’s popularity and power in the workplace.
Counter currents in career choices start to occur
Patterns in the gender make-up of different industries will start to be driven more by economic factors (eg. growth industries such as tech in emerging markets) rather than socially conditioned gendered conventions (eg. women entering the typically female-dominated ‘five Cs’: caring, cashiering, catering, cleaning and clerical). This will go some way to closing the pay gap – and although change here will be slow, emerging markets will be much quicker to adapt.
Gaming for good becomes a big deal
Women are taking over in the social gaming arena. There is evidence to suggest women engage more with initiatives and activities that have a wider social purpose. Expect the emergence of more tech-driven innovations which combine women’s interest in social good with their ability to leverage their collective voice online.
The demise of ‘pink it and shrink it’
Women represent a growth market bigger than India and China combined, and yet 71% of women feel that brands consider them only for beauty and cleaning products. Successful brands of the future will see beyond the ‘pink it and shrink it’ strategy for female audiences, and start designing products which answer women’s needs aesthetically and functionally (rather than just tailoring superficially).
Masculinity gets a make-over
Recent data suggests that urban American 20-something women are making more money than men of the same age. With the shift away from the traditional roles of men as breadwinner and protector of the family, there will be a need for new ideals of masculinity to emerge, and a role for brands in play in shaping these.
Find out more in The Futures Company report Women 2020: How Women’s Actions and Expectations Are Changing the Future, written by Elisa Birtwistle. It’s available for download here. http://thefuturescompany.com/free-thinking/