Until I read the new book Influence: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power Will Transform Our World For the Better, by Maddy Dychtwald, I wasn’t aware that women may be the biggest change agent of the 21st century. I got a clue, though, when my oldest daughter, who is finishing up her major in Women’s Studies, snatched the book out of my hands as soon as I opened the package.
In 1986, Maddy Dychtwald co-founded Age Wave with her husband, Ken. Since that time, she has been actively involved in analyzing and forecasting demographic, lifestyle and consumer marketing trends. During the first decade, she helped grow the company from the ground up to a multi-million dollar enterprise.
Maddy sent me an advance copy of Influence, which went on sale this week, and I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about it.
Q: What are some of the more surprising results from your study?
A: Well, I was surprised to learn that over the last two decades the increased employment of women has contributed more to the growth of the global economy than either China or India or even the growth of global technology…that’s big! I think what it points to is that right now we’re at a tipping point: a critical mass of women have had an explosive rise in education and earning power which has opened the door for them to exert their influence on the family, business, the workplace, the marketplace and the world at-large.
Q: How WILL women’s soaring economic power transform our world for the better?
A: In a number of ways, but here are three significant benefits. First, adding women to the corporate board of directors increases a company’s return on equity. Let me emphasize the word women, plural. The magic number is three: a company needs at least three women on its board to make a difference. Second, developing countries have found that when you educate young girls and women, you actually increase GDP. Last, in the developing world, women reinvest 90 percent of their income in their family and community as compared to men, who invest 30-70 percent.
Q: What are some of the implications for small business owners, especially those who are women?
A: Women start businesses at twice the national average and have helped move our country out of the recession. While large companies were firing people, small companies were still hiring. Now that’s influence in action, and small business owners, especially women business owners, ought to own that fact.
Another point that small business owners ought to keep in mind is that today women are playing by their own set of rules and creating something new that is really working. Take Katie Rodan, for example, who formed ProActiv with Kathy Fields. Together they created brand new approach to treating acne, and then marketing that product in a new way, despite social disapproval from the medical establishment.
Then there’s Aliza Freud who, with 15 employees at her market research firm, SheSpeaks, offers a combination of full-time and flexible hours to all of her employees.
And there’s Missy Park, founder and CEO of Title Nine, a sportswear company, who runs her company so differently that she jokes, “I’ve kind of created Missy’s World.” The women are offering up new approaches on not just to how to run a business, but also how to innovate new product ideas.
Q: What insight and advice can you give entrepreneurs on how to exploit this shift?
A: Realize that, in many ways, women are your primary market for all products. Women today are responsible for 83 percent of all consumer purchases, including 53 percent of stock market investments, 62 percent of all new cars and 55 percent of all consumer electronics. Yet more than half of all women tell us they feel misunderstood by marketers. This rocky new reality is anything but business as usual. In an increasingly competitive world, getting to know your best customer—who very well may be women—can give you a leg up against your competition. That means gathering intelligence about women consumers and working tirelessly to meet their needs.
Q: What’s the one thing you’d like your readers to remember or take away from Influence?
A: I think it’s that my message isn’t really just about women alone. It’s about a world-changing demographic trend that involves both women and men. In fact, one of the most compelling changes that women are bringing to bear is their influence on men. While women have gained earning power, men have stepped up to the plate—quite literally—to contribute more in the home. They are three times more involved in childcare than they were in the past, which has resulted in better-adjusted, more secure children and a divorce rate that has dipped. And nine out of ten men say they like this change. We need talented women and men exerting their influence on our world. We need to move closer to a partnership society that gets the best ideas and solutions from both genders.
Maddy’s message is an important one, and I highly recommend you read Influence. Sociodemographic shifts are opportunities no business can afford to ignore. The parade is already in progress, and you need to do is get out in front of it. Maddy’s book helps you do just that. It’s a huge opportunity to exploit, because the events behind the shifts have already occurred, so it’s the kind of opportunity you can bank on.
Matthew E. May is a design and innovation strategist, and the author of In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing. He blogs here. You can follow him on Twitter here.