Recently, there has been a steady stream of headlines declaring women ‘victorious’ in the battle of the sexes and the wage war. It wasn’t long ago that TIME magazine declared women “The Richer Sex” while a number of media outlets have trumpeted the coming of a “sheconomy,” in which women increasingly out-learn, out-earn, and eventually out-manage their male counterparts. But have women truly achieved equality—let alone superiority?
Equality isn’t the standard
I contend that the data actually points to a much more complicated picture. Not only does a wage gap still exist, but there are several other aspects of life in which women either take on more work, are charged more money, or are judged more harshly than their male counterparts. While there’s no denying that society has been moving in a more equitable direction over the past few decades, I wonder whether the media, marketers, governments, and consumers themselves have been too hasty to write off women’s equality as a closed case. After all, awareness is half the battle.
Inequality in the home
Undoubtedly there is a growing number of women who are juggling careers and motherhood. However, even though they increasingly carry (at least in part) the family financial burden, women still tend to contribute more than their share of domestic duties. Men today do contribute far more to the household workload than did the men of generations past, but there’s no question that a disparity still remains.
Inequality at work
Another more recent myth says that modern mothers feel empowered to choose between working and staying home with the kids. In actuality, many feel that society judges them unfairly no matter which path they take. For example, the Pew Research Center released findings that 37% of Americans believe that mothers with young children who work outside of the home are a “bad thing” for society. On top of that, discrimination and inequality remain problems in the workplace. As recently as September 2013, the US Census Bureau reported that “US Women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. While women aged 55-64 earn 75.1% of what men the same age earn, women aged 20-24 earn 93.2% of what their male counterparts earn.” Although the gap is narrowing, these more recent numbers suggest that progress has slowed over the past couple of years.
Inequality at the store
Women continue to experience inequality in retail, paying more for essentially the same services such as dry-cleaning and tailoring, and for products like razors and deodorant. In a piece called “Why Women Pay More,” Marie Claire explored the concept of ‘gender pricing’, a phenomenon in which businesses charge women more than men for the same services. Further, a study from the University of Central Florida examined more than 200 sticks of deodorant sold at major drug store chains and found that sticks of women’s deodorant cost an average of 30 cents more per ounce than men’s deodorant. By designating a product as specifically for women, businesses are able to charge more for it than for the same product designated for men.
Balancing the equation
A growing number of women - and men - are diligently working to bring attention to issues of inequality and, more importantly, help to close the gaps that still exist. For marketers and decision makers, this translates to a huge opportunity to support these efforts, especially on a global scale.
Research indicates that women may indeed be pulling more weight around the house than men. One way to reconcile this imbalance is by actively targeting men for domestic products and services. Meanwhile, CPG manufacturers can address gender pricing by pricing women’s products equally to men's, or by being more transparent when higher price points are truly a necessity. Likewise, businesses in service industries where gender pricing is rife, such as salons and tailors, can stand out from competitors and draw female customers with gender-neutral pricing.
Additionally, there are some businesses areas where women are traditionally overlooked or even excluded; think car dealerships, appliance and tool retailers, golf courses, and business travel amenities. By making the effort to make women feel welcome, businesses in these fields can open the doors to a new market.
Finally, the term ‘empowerment’ has become a bit of a cliché, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a need to give females support when and where they need it. We expect to see global female empowerment and all the issues it encapsulates to remain a significant corporate social responsibility platform in the years ahead. But right now, one of the most crucial ways businesses can prove they’re investing in women is simply by hiring more of them, especially at the senior level. Companies of all kinds have huge opportunities to develop corporate initiatives and marketing campaigns that are aimed at empowering women and young girls alike. The key is to create opportunities for women to boost one another and ‘raise the tides’ for their female friends, coworkers, and daughters.