20 April 2015

What Women Want: Part 1- What’s on their mind?

By Shaziya Khan, VP & Executive Planning Director (JWT Mumbai)

“What do women want"
It is a question that has alternately vexed and fascinated the world! 

At a recent conference, a global marketing head travelling from the USA to India, for the first time, remarked with a smile - after his first consumer home visit : I learnt today that the emotional feeling of being the father of 3 daughters is universal. (His meeting, serendipitiously, happened to be with a dad, who like him, had 3 teenage daughters.)  His concluded with a smile, two dads from different corners of the world, and at opposite ends of the socio – economic spectrum, and with totally different experiences - were basically going through the same journey!

In short, that fellow feeling of trying to understand todays’ evolving woman unites us all. 

And it is not just fathers, but also mothers, husbands, and the women themselves too, by the way, striving to get a good grasp on this present day universal quest. All needing to step back, ponder, and understand, at least a little bit, what women really want. 

For marketers, who have skin in the game and realize the game is evolving rapidly - the question is more imperative than ever.

Past Asian studies have shed some light on this rapidly evolving target group. For instance, summarizing Asian women rather optimistically  as “holding up half the sky” or, more pessimistically, and worryingly, as “simmering within”. The slant of this thesis by JWT (across India, China, and Indonesia) is to provide a more holistic view of women, rather than a simplistically positive or negative one.

This JWT study (across women SEC A, B, age group 20-45 years) aims at drawing out a well-rounded picture of the emerging chrysalis. And then sharing some of theimplications for those aiming to help our subject, and the target group of much marketing effort, to fly. What follows, is an individual focus, in three parts on - what is on women’s minds, what is in their hearts and finally what is in their pockets. 

We learnt that what is on women’s minds is a widespread and nuanced realization that their role in society, and more intimately, at home and in family has improved for the better. In short, they agree that women’s voice is being heard but they want more! Lets unpack why and how this is so.
Firstly, an overwhelming 90% of women, agree that women’s role in society is changing for the better. This point of view is evidently based, less on whimsy or wishful thinking, than ever before. Education and independence are cited as the underpinning of women’s “new, improved” role in society. Nearly 50% of women believe that access to work and career and better education are the top most influential reasons for their role in society changing. “Feel that women today are more independent and are able to express themselves better” as a respondent in this study put it.
Secondly, and very significantly, less than one in 5 women agrees that  better portrayal of women in the media is a positive influence for women. In other words, when women were asked “Thinking about your generation compared to your mothers, which three of the following do you think have been most influential for women?” their answers are revealing. Women’s top influencers were grounded and real ones – education and career. (Women’s portrayal in the media is NOT a top influencer for this generation of women. Is there an opportunity for better role models being portrayed, is a topic for discussion at another time). Both the influencers– education and career, have their rewards and their challenges. Making women who are influenced by them and traverse their paths alive to their possibilities, yes, but in a very real and practical sense. Hence words like “rights, challenges, equality, respect, brave” pepper their feedback on womens’ evolving role. 
What is most heartening, is that women’s point of viewon their role in society, is a nuanced view, not at all blind to the challenges on the path. This was evident across several comments like this one, on the same question. “They have a better say in family and financial matters though the respect that they should get in the society is yet to come”. Or another like minded one. “Better living standards, more working women, more educated than before, courage, brave, facing problems, working in all fields”.
We learnt from them, that what is on women’s minds is neither a simplistically optimistic view of their role and nor a pessimistic one. Happily, women of today embrace a grounded “you gotta have what it takes” view on their generations role in family and society at large. Hmmm. Makes “rose tinted” a thing of the past, doesn’t it. The ladies see it as it is. 
Thirdly, we learnt that a natural corollary to their realistic and clear sighted world view is the desire women have for their voice to be heard more and their opinions to be valued more. Given that their world view is NOT a rose tinted one, but an objective, realistic and grounded one, alive to the BOTH rewards and challenges– women expect and want their realistic, grounded voice to be heard MORE. This unfulfilled desire for women’s opinion to be valued more came marching through the numbers in the study. Nearly 50% women (that is one in two women) agreed with the statements “I wish my opinion at work was valued more” and “ I wish my opinion at home was valued more”. That is a big shift! Because earlier researches for decades highlighted women want to be valued more (alluding to self esteem, worth, and related issues); the recent research is highlighting  women want their opinions to be valued more. Yearning for a recognition beyond simply their “place” to a recognition of their perspective or point of view.
To sum up “what is on their mind” – women believe their role in society has improved thanks to education and career. But there is still headroom for women’s opinions to be valued more both at home and in the workplace. Simply put, ask the ladies! And then heed their wisdom. What is your opinion about that? That is worth thinking about! Till we share what is in their heart (the next module moves beyond what is on women’s mind to understanding what is in their heart -  on women’s aspirations)

This article was first published in Hindu Business Line 20th Feb, 2015

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