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.