THE GENDER POTENTIAL IN CONSUMER INDUSTRIES
Women are the primary decision-makers for consumer goods in 85% of households, make 75% of decisions about buying new homes, and make 81% of the decisions about groceries. Though, 91% of women feel misunderstood by advertisers .
Recently, leading consumer goods companies have become aware of the importance of the female market and so are tailoring the way that they design, make and market products . For instance, P&G is tailoring their marketing and branding. Their #WeSeeEqual campaign strives for gender equality and acceptance by portraying a world where men and women share the same challenges and reach the same goals. Also, brands with products traditionally linked to men (e.g. whiskey) are leveraging different channels to tap the women consumer opportunities without alienating men (e.g. see Jack Daniels’ tweet on International Women Day 2017).
Gender is a multi-faceted and complex topic, which is intrinsic to any organisation, and the relative potential of distinct initiatives is highly variable by value chain stage and geography. However, there seem to be three key opportunities and three challenges for FMCGs aiming for a gender-equal future.
Gender opportunities for Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCGs)
1. Integral value chain evaluation
It is important to evaluate gender roles throughout the value chain while being aware of the roots of the industry and organisation. More often than not, women have been an integral part of the industry’s origins, though their roles have segregated throughout time.
For instance, industries traditionally linked with men such as Alcoholic Beverages, have seen a spark in female consumption over the last few years. The booming cocktail culture and female celebrity-centric marketing are said to drive such spark in female alcohol consumption  (e.g. Mila Kunis promoting Jim Beam). Nevertheless, women had always had roles in its production, sale, distribution and consumption of alcoholic beverages such as beer and whiskey .
When evaluating gender, organisations tend to look from a macro, high-level perspective rather than an integral and organic one. If we take history into account, we could say that the growth of female consumption is purely organic. An inside-out evaluation of the value chain would shed light on current gender segregation and possible opportunities to achieve (or re-achieve) gender parity.
2. Internal operations
Organisations employing more women in top management roles are better equipped to meet the needs of the broader market as women often better understand the perceptions and desires of other women . At the same time, gender parity engagement has proved to have a direct link with business performance.
Higher representation of women within the organisation increases business revenue (up to 42% higher), greater ROI (up to 66% higher), lower turnover (22% lower), increased innovation and better problem solving and group performance . In fact, a 30% increase in women within corporate leadership results in a one-percentage-point increase in net margin — which translates to a 15% increase in profitability for a typical firm .
Gender-related matters are interconnected. If companies achieve an equal gender workforce, they would be economically empowering women, aiding an equal gender society overall, while successfully catering the female market, thus, increasing operational and financial performance .
3. PR & brand advocacy
The potential of women as consumers is not limited to them as direct consumers but rather as multiple consumers in one . There is a multiplier effect of women consumers as they have the power to influence consumer spending of family and friends and so be brand advocates. Indeed, 36% of women, in average, share purchasing information to help others make smart purchases .
Such advocacy role results in multiplier effect which has the potential to act positively or negatively. For example, Bic launched a range of pink and purple pens ‘designed to fit comfortably in a woman’s hand’, presumably to attract the female consumer. It did not anticipate the backlash from outraged women around the world, who resented the implication that they struggled to write and needed a pen specially-designed for their delicate hands.
Nowadays, there are almost no limits into to how information and opinions from a single source can get amplified across the off-and online worlds. Therefore, the gender topic is key to every organisation, and it is beneficial to engage women at every organisational level to prevent any possible pitfalls or misunderstandings.
Challenges when developing a gender strategy
1. Corporate vision & purpose
‘Purpose is where your talents and the needs of the world intersect’ — Aristotle
Gender is a multi-faceted topic, and it has different connotations across geographies, organisations and value chain actor. Yet, a gender strategy ought to fit within companies’ corporate vision and priorities. Questions to consider include:
· What are our strategic priorities?
· How does gender equality fit within our vision?
· How is gender currently understood in each of the geographies that we operate?
2. Internal organisational culture
Gender dilemmas, connotations and perceptions are often embedded within organisational cultures. It is essential to know the internal gender perception (employees) and externally (customers). Questions to consider include:
· How does your organisational culture cater gender-related matters?
· Is your product associated with negative gender connotations?
· Who are your key stakeholders and how do they perceive your brand?
3. The ‘gender trap’
Both research and the public debate on gender equality primarily revolve around women. Øystein Gullvåg Holter refers to it as the “gender trap”, where he explains that gender equality is still widely considered as a feminist cause .
However, gender equality has positive socio-economic effects for men, women and society. In fact, if you live in one of the more gender equal countries in Europe, the chances of having a high-quality life are about twice as big as for those living in one of the less gender equal countries .
Thus, falling in the “gender trap” prevents organisations to fully embrace with the gender value.
The gender topic has regained popularity due to its economic and social impact. Women represent several consumers in one and have immense power to influence purchasing decisions within their household, as well as, other social spheres .
Leading consumer companies are already implementing gender parity initiatives, though, several organisations overlook the gender potential because of its multifaceted nature and because gender-targeted initiatives can be hard to implement and extract tangible benefits in the short-term.
A holistic vision, strategy and long-term commitment are essential to capture the full gender potential.
** All views my own **
Note: Inclusion and diversity encompass a series of topics including, gender, LGBTQ, race, age. This article focuses, deliberately, on the gender subset.
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