Thursday, 7 March 2013

Women: A Huge Customer Base

In India and many other countries, it is common for financial planners and advisors to visit your home to discuss your overall financial portfolio and to pitch and sell specific financial products like insurance, mutual funds, etc. On one such instance, our financial advisor said that he would bring in an executive from their Singapore office to talk to us about an upcoming product. This executive from Singapore came in, started his presentation focused entirely on my husband even though I am the primary account holder on that account. It is true that many financial decisions were made by the male in many families probably because he was typically the only earning member in the household. However, the trend is changing as women have come into the work-force and have an independent opinion and point of view. Over 85% of household expenses are decided or influenced by women. This not only includes day-to-day expenses but also larger expenses like automobiles, homes, computers, medical care, vacations, and phones. Not only do companies have to pitch and sell products to women but they need to cater the products and marketing towards women.This financial executive ignored the female of the family and didn't include her in the discussion. Needless to say, we did not invest in their product.  I see this casual dismissal of women decision power everywhere. Companies are really hurting due to this attitude.

Photo by Community Eye Health
In some industries, innovation and research for problems affecting women have not kept pace – this is true in my own computer industry. For example, a large percentage of smart phones have capacitive touch screens these days.  These touch phones are very difficult to use for people with long nails especially the zoom feature using the pinch gesture.  Many women have long nails and I am sure they run into this problem.  There are very few innovations like the “conductive nail polish” to solve this problem. Is this because mobile phone handset companies do not see the potential of women as customers? Is it because we do not know that these problems exist?  I believe that fewer women in the computer industry and even fewer number of women in leadership positions during the conceptualization and definition phases of products are a cause for less marketable products and services for women.

So, why is that we do not have enough women in the industry? There are many reasons that women are not continuing to stay in the technology industry.  Studies show that 56% of the women who join the technology industry end up in other careers. IT industry has relatively higher paying jobs, flexible working hours and work from home policies. Even with all these benefits, the IT industry still continues to have trouble retaining women.  I personally know of some very good engineers, who later in life chose to be working in real estate, property development, teaching kindergarten, Human Resources.  While there is nothing wrong with the professions that they have chosen, it definitely affects the computer industry adversely. Big companies have policies, procedures and practices to ensure a work environment that is conducive for women so that they may have a productive and satisfying work life. But the execution of these policies is in the hands of a middle management. Many in middle management do not internalize this and some of the processes they implement in turn defeat the well-intentioned policies and hurt the working women in the company. 

 Image by Visio Guy
As Sharmila Rudrappa, a professor at the University of Texas puts it, “Diversity in the workplace is the key to the competitive advantage of firms, and to this end, it is imperative that the growth of every employee within the firm is facilitated.” Having fewer women in technology is adversely affecting development, marketing, and sales of products, eventually hurting the competitive edge of companies.   It is important to retain women in the industry and this will eventually lead to more innovative products. Companies cannot afford to lose out on this large population as customers. They should start by seeing women as a very large potential pool of untapped customers, having women involved in conceptualizing, defining and marketing the products the right way to women.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

One year later -- Outside my Comfort Zone

“Nobody ever died of discomfort, yet living in the name of comfort has killed more ideas, more opportunities, more actions, and more growth than everything else combined.” - T. Harv Eker 

It has been a year since I started blogging.  Fifteen articles later, I am proud that this blog has a very diverse audience from all continents and comments from some remarkable people.

Growing up, I did not like to write much. I wrote essays and papers for my class work when I was forced to. Beyond that I was not interested in poetry or writing. Mathematics and Physics were my favourite subjects and not English literature. I would occasionally read blogs and was always interested in the writer’s point of view. After over twenty years in the industry, I have developed strong opinions and have a point of view about dos and don’ts across technology, management, leadership, and yes, parenting. One of my ex-colleagues was rated incorrectly and I felt that the rating process had to change. I was between jobs at this time and I wrote an article to express my feelings. I mailed it to some of my friends and my husband encouraged me to start writing blogs. This got me into blogging.

What amazes me about blogging is the reach and influence one can have! I depend on the power of social media -- people sharing my blogs among their colleagues, friends, and family which increases the readership.  Thanks to all my readers for their support. Readers have come from all continents across the world.  I have to look up the map sometimes to find some of the nations. The readers are across all ages – previous, present and next generation. Some of my blogs have been published in online magazines. One of the first women to get a BS in Computer Science commented on my blog. It was so nice to hear from a person who has been in the industry and paved the way for many of us.  When I write about my team’s accomplishments and they acknowledge that I have put their efforts in the right light, it puts a smile on my face and warms my heart.  Someone who met me socially told me that she continues to work after reading one of my blogs.  My mom heard about my blog from her friend. She was so thrilled to have seen an article from me and thought the content was so appropriate. When my son quoted a line from my blog in his college application essay, it made my day, no… the whole year, my life…

Awkward - Move out of your comfort zone
Move out of your comfort zone -- Credits: Brian Tracy, DreamThisDay
I actually enjoy writing my blogs now. I constantly think of the next topics to write. When I started however, it was not easy.  I am always one to push myself out of my comfort zone to do new things. At the age of 35, I started learning the Piano. I am not naturally gifted towards music or the black and white keys, but that made it challenging enough for me to put in the effort. Writing was definitely out of my comfort zone, something I had not done before but I have so many strong opinions to share.  You never know what you will enjoy until you try it and that does not happen unless you force yourself out of your comfort zone. The biggest effect of blogging is that it has enhanced my own ability to observe. I have learned a lot from blogging, both about myself and the world.  I think deeply about and ponder over issues more than ever.  For a person from a small town with big dreams, a person in a minority in my industry even after twenty years, the opportunity to share my opinions and having my own voice is a huge asset. I am glad to be in this age of the social media. While trying to help myself by expressing my opinions, getting out of my comfort zone and standing up against wrong, I hope I have made a small difference to the community in my own way.

Comfort Zone – author Unknown

I used to have a comfort zone where I knew I wouldn't fail.
The same four walls and busywork were really more like jail.
I longed so much to do the things I'd never done before,
But stayed inside my comfort zone and paced the same old floor. 

I said it didn't matter that I wasn't doing much.
I said I didn't care for things like commission checks and such.
I claimed to be so busy with the things inside the zone,
But deep inside I longed for something special of my own.

I couldn't let my life go by just watching others win.
I held my breath; I stepped outside and let the change begin.
I took a step and with new strength I'd never felt before,
I kissed my comfort zone goodbye and closed and locked the door.

If you're in a comfort zone, afraid to venture out,
Remember that all winners were at one time filled with doubt.
A step or two and words of praise can make your dreams come true.
Reach for your future with a smile; success is there for you!