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Is the Girl Effect Real?

I live as the sole injection of estrogen in a house full of testosterone with my husband and two young boys, aged nine and six. But suddenly I am swimming in estrogen. Coming off the back of two different client projects both of which involved global brands targeting women — one in beauty and the other in food — I’m awash in gender comparison data on what people care about today and how this aligns — or doesn’t — with their brand interactions, lifestyle choices and purchase decisions.  

I’ve just digested John Gerzema’s latest book, The Athena Doctrine: How Women and Men Who Think Like Them Will Rule the Future* and Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, both of which are garnering sales and conversation. There’s a growing buzz about the attitude, engagement and positive impact of women in the marketplace and in society at large. But is the girl effect real?

The answer is yes. My consultancy’s research tool The SHIFT Report™ has recently launched a report called The New Variablesthat reveals a significant difference in how women and men rate CSR and sustainable life issues. Women are driving The New Variables that are defining success and driving lifestyle choices, purchase decisions and brand relationships  integrity, authenticity, community, connection, consciousness, social responsibility r, as The Athena Doctrine describes, the characteristics and traits that are typically identified as feminine.

After surveying 64,000 people in thirteen countries and in-depth interviews worldwide, Gerzema and his award winning co-author Michael D’Antonio conclude: The world would be a better place if men thought more like women. This fantastic book, at which I was privileged to get a sneak pre-launch peek, outlines the case for “How feminine values can solve our toughest problems and build a more prosperous future.”

According to The Athena Doctrine. “This marks a global trend away from the winner-takes-all, masculine approach to getting things done … men and women alike are recognizing significant value in traits commonly associated with women, such as nurturing, cooperation, communication, and sharing."

Why are women driving The New Variables? As The Athena Doctrine shows, “Femininity is the operating system of 21st century prosperity.” Athena might even argue that women are defining The New Variables.

The New Variables report launches at an appropriate time  in the middle of growing chatter about the opportunities and implications of the women, business and positive impact trifecta.

The SHIFT Report reveals that over the past five years, across both the general population and demographic groups, there is year-to-year consistency in the hierarchy of what’s important to people today: sustainable life and CSR issues. Those issues that fall into the Personal, Social and/or Spiritual Sustainability Pillars are consistently the most important to people and those that are exclusive to the Environmental Sustainability fall at the bottom of the hierarchy.  

For example, for 89% of respondents, “feeling connected to my friends, family and community" is an important sustainability issue, according to The SHIFT Report’s 2012-2013 study of 5,000 general population adults aged 18+ across the US and Canada; “Fair Trade: how the workers who make the products and services I use are treated fairly” is an important sustainability issue for 72%. Global warming is an important sustainability issue for 50%.

However women are significantly more likely than men to rate all sustainability and CSR issues as important.

Across all pillars women are more attitudinally engaged then men according to The SHIFT Report. 93% of women say that a Balanced Life is important versus 85% of men. 90% of women indicate that Feeling Connected to my Friends, Family and Community is important versus 79% of men. One of the biggest differences is the importance of Nurturing Personal Relationships versus Material Possessions; 84% of women state this is important versus 69% of men.

Attitude is one thing, and action is something quite different. The goal for marketers and the brand experiences they create is to align the two. Women are already more likely to align attitudes about what’s important with action then men are. The attitude-action gap is smaller, and more likely to close, with women.

There is indeed a girl effect

In addition to higher attitudinal engagement, women are more behaviorally engaged with sustainable life and CSR issues, according to The SHIFT Report. Women are significantly more likely to connect attitudes with action when it comes to making sustainable and socially responsible lifestyle choices and purchase decisions. Across all consumption categories from food to automotive to financial investments and more, women are on average 12% more likely than men to have already made sustainable and socially responsible lifestyle choices and purchase decisions.

It appears that not only is the girl effect real in lifestyle choices and purchase decisions, the qualities that are driving the girl effect are increasingly important in personal, social and business success.

Why is this happening now? What does this mean from a business and brand perspective and will certain categories benefit more than others?

Darcy Winslow, founder of sustainability consultancy DSW Collective, has some knowledge of this. Darcy tenured twenty-plus years at Nike where her roles included leading Nike’s Global Women’s Fitness Business and as senior advisor to the Nike Foundation, which seeks to empower disadvantaged girls, ages 10 to 19 years, through poverty alleviation and creating economic livelihood opportunities.

“It’s so far beyond the tipping point, that you can’t ignore it  the role that women are playing” in driving these New Variables, says Winslow. “What business or sector wouldn’t benefit from that and from a greater sense of well-being? Look at professional sports. Look at the military.”

So do women lean in and embrace what has been described by Sandberg as how men typically behave in business to their benefit, or do they embrace their feminine characteristics as a tool for success? There’s no one-size-fits-all, but I’d hazard a guess: It’s a balance of the two.

*All proceeds from the sale of The Athena Doctrine go to the United Nations Foundation's GirlUp campaign. You can help raise awareness for this foundation by Tweeting this message. For each Tweet or RT a $1 donation will be made to the Girl Up Campaign. You can also share on Facebook or LinkedIn.


Kierstin is the CEO and founder of Ci and the creator of Ci’s proprietary strategic research and analytics tool, The SHIFT Report™. In 2002, she founded Ci with the launch of a white paper titled “Integrity: The New Brand… [Read more about Kierstin De West]


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