The future of the world economy lies increasingly in female hands. This was the paradigm behind the coining of the phrase ‘womenomics’ by Goldman Sachs executive Kathy Matsui in 1999, but never has this statement been more true than today, on International Women’s Day 2015.
Digital technology has revolutionised the ways in which women can participate economically and socially
Why? Because digital technology has revolutionised the ways in which women can participate economically and socially.
At the most basic level, technology allows women to go about their lives – personally and professionally – in ways that simply weren’t possible even 10 years ago. It’s enabled flexible working, working on the go and start-ups from home. As a working mum myself, much of my work now gets done on trains, and increasingly in airports.
Flexibility of technnology
The flexibility of technology enables me to balance the requirements of my job with the demands of being a wife and mother. It is intrinsic to my being able to maintain a senior position in the business while having a family.
This extends to the developing world too. For a female rural farmer in Uganda, a 3G mobile phone can mean the difference between selling her produce and not, as it allows her to find out where the closest markets are on any given day. Mobiles can also help women to manage their finances and protect savings; educational apps provide training and resources.
But the revolution goes way beyond this. Women are incredibly powerful as consumers and – though there remains debate over the exact numbers –studies and surveys estimate that they’re responsible for more than 80% of household purchases, including 65% of new cars and 66% of home computers.
Women are powerful consumers
What this means, as retail visionary Paco Underhill wrote as far back as 1999 in his book Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, is that "women are capable of consigning species of retailer or product to Darwin's dustbin if that retailer is unable to adapt to what women need and want".
And what’s changed since 1999 is that, through technology, brands now have the power to adapt in a highly personalised way to what individual women need and want. Because – newsflash! – us women aren’t actually a homogenous mass who all think and act the same.
Brands now have the power to adapt in a highly personalised way to what individual women need and want. Because – newsflash! – us women aren’t actually a homogenous mass who all think and act the same
And if brands need to target women at an individual level – to prevent themselves being consigned to Darwin’s dustbin – then it makes each of us more economically powerful.
Or to put it another way: brands need to act smarter to keep us onside. The rise of big data means they can now capture and analyse the behaviour of their customers and target very personalised messages at them.
Topshop, for example, used digital billboards at the recent London Fashion Week to convey real-time catwalk trends through Twitter and combined that with contextual data – time of day, weather – to allow women to tweet back and receive a personally curated shopping list for a store less than 10 minutes away.
Brands have been falling over themselves
Digital technology also allows brands to better understand the women they’re trying to target. For the past few years they’ve been falling over themselves to collaborate with online networks such as Mumsnet, Netmums and Channel Mum, to tap into their intimate understanding of individual women.
And more recently, female vloggers have become the go-to for brands that want to connect with women. Zoella, with her 7.5 million global subscribers and unique reach with millennial women, is unsurprisingly one of the most sought after. Unilever has made the most of Zoella’s beauty credibility with its YouTube channel All Things Hair, where the women, and not the brand, are front and centre.
Tesco is also innovating in this space with its newly launched online beauty consultations, which are delivered one to one by beauty bloggers via Google Hangouts.
Technology enables female mobilisation at scale
Technology also allows women to mobilise together at scale. The Nike Foundation’s initiative The Girl Effect uses digital platforms to connect with girls and spread a message of global female empowerment. By building relationships with powerful female influencers such as Emma Watson, Malala Yousafzai and Oprah Winfrey, through social media it is able to spread the message further and wider, and with greater credibility, than it would have been able to do alone.
Technology, then, is helping to make women more economically and socially powerful both as individuals and as a collective. There’s a long way to go, of course, but it’s this that can help to drive womenomics forward in a digital age.