Six Reasons Why Women Are the Most Important Audience for Changing the World

The following is an excerpt from Lisa Witter and Lisa Chen's new book, The She Spot: Why Women Are the Market for Changing the World -- And How to Reach Them (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 2007).

The Home Depot of today is a lot different than it was ten years ago. The stores feel less cluttered and more airy. Everything, from light fixtures to carpet samples, is more stylish and varied. Home décor departments have been expanded. The company's ad campaigns and catalogues, which used to simply showcase products, now feature more people. In its first six months, a new store feature, "Do-It-Herself" workshops, drew 40,000 women.

Stonyfield Farm grew from being a seven-cow organic farming school in the early '80s into a company with $250 million in annual sales. Every cup of Stonyfield yogurt bears a personal message from the CEO and founder Gary Hirshberg. Turn the lid over and you'll find tips on how to make the world a better place. Stonyfield was ahead of the curve when it came to products that had special appeal to moms, like Yo-Baby yogurt and calcium-fortified yogurt. All of this has been critical to the company's surge as the fastest-growing yogurt company in the world.

The success of these companies is representative of a sea change in the business world in the past 10 years as business leaders have come to recognize women as much more than an "emerging" or niche market. Today, women represent the largest and most important consumer market there is.

How did this happen? It began with demographic changes among women themselves in their roles at work and at home. Today, women make 83 percent of all consumer purchases -- everything from breakfast cereal to big-ticket items like cars and personal computers -- for themselves and for their families. They are also responsible for 80 percent of all health care-related decisions for their households.

Wising up to the power of the purse and its ripple effects in the marketplace, smart companies began putting female customers first by thinking creatively and critically about what they want. They shaped the consumer experience to appeal to women from the minute they walk into the store or click on the company Web site, all they way through the point of purchase.

As marketing gurus Tom Peters and Marti Barletta put it, there is "a widespread recognition among business leaders of the blazingly obvious ... that women are where the money is."

Yet the non-profit and political sectors have been slower to pick up on this demographic revolution. Not only do women have the power to profoundly influence the world of consumer goods, they also have the power to rouse and accelerate our ability to do good -- provided we know to unleash that power.

Women: A Non-Profit's Best Friend

A few years ago our colleagues at Fenton were working to rebrand Infact, a venerable non-profit organization that burst on the scene more than three decades ago with a successful worldwide boycott of Nestlé. The food giant was aggressively marketing its brand of baby formula to mothers in developing countries. The only problem was, the formula for making the formula -- add water and stir -- was hurting and, in some cases, killing infants because some local water supplies were too polluted for their young stomachs.

The organization had since developed a formidable track record of forcing major corporations, including Big Tobacco, to the table to reform their abusive business practices. As part of the rebranding process, we asked them who their target audience was. They replied, "women." Specifically women in their 40s to 60s, because they made up the group's core funding base and were also their most loyal and active members.

This isn't true for all non-profits, of course, but it is for a surprising number of them, including ones that work on issues that are not considered traditional "women's issues." The progressive online group,, for example, has more than three million members; the average donor profile is a woman in her mid-40s. Women give, and what they give can help make the backbone of an organization.

So as Infact was rethinking their name (they are known today as Corporate Accountability International), our colleagues made sure their new and improved identity system spoke to their base. Part of this involved shaping their message and their mission -- fighting bad-guy corporations -- so neither strayed too far from the "why" driving their work. Their organization tagline today is, "Challenging Abuse. Protecting People."

Transforming Society As We Know It

Women's growing economic and political clout in the private and public sectors can be traced at its origin to the 1940s when, for the first time, women left the home for the workplace in unprecedented numbers in response to the labor shortage created when many men went off to war. In many ways, women have never looked back.

Following this group of pioneering women were the baby boomers, many of whom would become radicalized during the 1960s and give rise to the feminist movement. For the first time in our history, instead of following traditional female roles, a significant number of women were calling their own shots when it came to making money, taking a political stand, and deciding for themselves what they wanted out of life.

Times, they're still changing. In 2007 the latest census figures showed that, for the first time in history, single women outnumber married ones in the U.S.

This shift has been shaped by a confluence of social factors: more women are postponing marriage while others are living unmarried with partners. Women are also outliving their husbands and, compared to divorced men, divorced women are delaying another trip down the aisle. William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institute described the shift to the New York Times as "clearly a tipping point, reflecting the culmination of post-1960 trends associated with greater independence and more flexible lifestyles for women."

Taken as a whole, all these trends have produced seismic changes in the home as well as in the labor force. They are transforming philanthropy and the non-profit sector as well. Today, women are arguably the most important audience (and a driving force) for those of us who do social change work. Here are six reasons:

1. Women's Economic Clout is Growing

On one level, it boils down to money: who's got it and who's giving it. Given that women continue to earn 78 cents for every man's dollar, you'd be inclined to think men control the majority of the wealth in this country.

But a recent survey of data from the Federal Reserve Board reveals that this isn't so. Women actually control slightly more than half (51.3 percent) of all personal wealth in the United States. They make 83 percent of all household purchasing decisions, including big ticket items that are typically associated with men: cars, home development wares, and home electronics. Women even buy more riding lawn mowers than men do.

There are several reasons for this slight income edge. One is that women outlive men, and widows are inheriting their husbands' wealth. But that's just one sliver of the pie. Women are also generating their own income as never before, to the point that one out of four married women out-earn their spouses.

Women-owned businesses today are the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. economy, representing $3.3 trillion in purchasing power. What's more, firms owned by women of color are growing at six times the rate of all U.S. firms.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are strong indications that women will continue to level the playing field with men as their income as a group continues to rise.

One of these indicators is education. Today, more women than ever are getting a college education, the biggest stepping stone to higher-paying jobs. What's more, once women start attending college, they are significantly more likely than men to graduate (63 percent compared to 55 percent), according to recent studies.

While women still earn less than men on average, when they take home a college degree, they make a large leap in their ability to raise their standard of living. Women are taking greater leaps than men on this front, which makes it a profound predictor for women's greater income potential in the near future. Between 1990 and 2000, the standard-of-living gain for women with a bachelor's degree under their belt compared to those with a high school diploma was 13 percent larger than for men.

We're already seeing these trends play out. The number of women who earn $100,000 or more has tripled in the past decade, making them the fastest-growing segment of wealthy individuals, according to the Employment Policy Foundation. Over the past 30 years, women's income has jumped more than 60 percent, while men's median income has stayed (more or less) the same (up just 6 percent). This phenomenon shows no sign of letting up. Women from the baby boom generation are at their earning peak. And as Americans live longer and healthier lives than their parents, many are planning to forego the retirement community in Florida in favor of working well into their so-called "golden years." By 2010 women are expected to control 60 percent of the country's wealth, which makes them a prime target for fundraising by non-profit organizations and political campaigns.

2. Women Care -- and Give

But how much you make isn't necessarily a reflection of how much, or whether, you give to good causes.

For decades, the traditional face of philanthropy has been the Fords and Rockefellers of the world, titans of industry who established large foundations in their names to organize their giving. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are modern-day exemplars of that model.

Yet by focusing our attention too narrowly on the giant checks, we risk losing sight of how philanthropy is changing, and how women are driving this change. Women make contributions to twice as many charitable organizations as men do, and they are more likely to take greater risks in organizations with a strong vision for change. There are also strong indications that women are closing the giving gap, driven in part by the earning trends alluded to earlier and the greater control they are exerting over their personal wealth.

Also, many women who have it, give it -- and they give it big. A survey of nearly 400 prominent American businesswomen found that more than half donate $25,000 or more a year to charity; 19 percent give $100,000 or more a year. Even more striking, high-net worth women business owners with assets of more than $1 million are even more likely than their male counterparts to contribute at least $10,000 a year to charity (50 percent for women compared to 40 percent for men).

On the political front, women are giving in unprecedented numbers to presidential candidates in the 2008 election. As we write this, women account for more than half the contributions to Hillary Clinton's and Barack Obama's campaigns. The boom in female political donors has been attributed to mounting frustration with the situation in Iraq, support for Hillary as the first female candidate with a real shot at the White House, and to a general push by women for a sea change in political leadership and the direction of the country.

While these trends are promising, they are just a hint of what's to come. It is a core contention of this book that women's financial might has yet to be tapped to its fullest potential, and a lot of that has to do with how good a job we're doing at marketing to them. If we were to apply marketing strategies that truly spoke to women's hearts as well as their bottom lines, they would respond in even greater numbers.

What motivates women to give is the subject of a later chapter, but it is worth noting up front that women's giving is not necessarily limited to issues traditionally associated with women and children, although education does tend to top the list of priorities. It's also important to know that, while men tend to donate out of organizational loyalty or to support the status quo (like their alma maters), women are more committed to giving money to organizations and causes they believe will bring about social change.

Women are putting their money where their mouths are in more ways than giving. Their commitment is also reflected in their numbers in traditionally caring professions, from nursing, teaching, and social work to the public sector, where women head more than half the foundations in the country and 70 percent of program officer positions.

3. Women Pay It Forward

Money, of course, is not the only important force for change. Many non-profits rely on a strong membership base to achieve their advocacy goals. This is one area where women can, and have been, phenomenally influential.

Lisa C.'s friend Kim recently bought a pair of Dansko clogs when she saw a colleague at Smith College, where they both teach, wearing a pair. "Those are cute," she said. "Are they comfortable?" The friend enthusiastically sang her shoes' praises: "I wear them all the time!" On that strong endorsement, Kim bought a pair for herself, but experienced a fleeting pang of buyer's remorse when they hurt the first time she wore them. But within a few days, the clogs were comfortably broken in. When Kim's fiancé's sister saw her wearing her Danskos, she asked about them. Kim gave the clogs her own positive review, along with the tip that they take a few days to wear in. Now the sister owns a pair, too.

Kim did what many women do every day -- pass good information forward. In other words, when you market well to women, you also benefit from the world's most powerful marketing tool: word of mouth. Word of mouth is more prevalent among women than men. Not only are women less shy about asking outright for tips on what to buy and how to save, but they're also more likely to volunteer such information. Clairol capitalized on this power to great effect in a memorable advertising campaign that showed a woman telling two friends about the remarkable shampoo, and her friends each telling two friends, "and so on, and so on."

For non-profits seeking to build their visibility or political candidates seeking to gain support, women who are true believers can help make believers of others by spreading the good word to friends and family or by simply giving their honest appraisal of why they're voting for a candidate or supporting an issue.

Women's word of mouth can be credited for wildly successful fundraising campaigns like "Race for a Cure," the Susan B. Komen Foundation's annual fundraising marathon for breast cancer. As well, non-profit groups like are increasingly using social networking tactics such as word of mouth to build communities of activists -- a topic we'll explore in greater depth later in this book.

4. Women Can Tip the Election

Maybe it's because we didn't get the right to vote until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, but more women than men have voted in every election since Lyndon B. Johnson was in the White House.

In the 2006 midterm election that ushered in the first Democratic Congress in 12 years, 51 percent of the electorate was women compared to 49 percent men. According to a nationwide survey by Ms. Magazine and the Women Donors Network, 55 percent of women voted for Democratic candidates compared to 50 percent of men. This five-point gender gap was enough to make the difference in a number of close races. The African American women's vote was credited for being the determining factor in Senator Jim Webb's victory in Virginia.

The gender gap was also alive and well in the 2004 presidential election, with women seven points less likely than men to vote for George W. Bush. Back in 2000, the split was even more pronounced, with women 10 percentage points less likely than men to vote for Bush. In both elections, the majority of women favored the Democratic candidate.

If the pollsters and pundits are to be believed, the outcome of the upcoming 2008 presidential election may well be determined by the single woman. Single women -- a group 47 million strong that includes the Carrie Sex in the City Bradshaws of the world as well as widows, twenty-something college grads, and divorced single moms -- has been something of a sleeping giant in politics, mostly because neither the Republican nor Democratic Parties have really invested the time to listen or speak to their concerns. The candidate who builds the bridge stands to reap enormous gains on election day.

5. Women Volunteer More of Their Time

About 65.4 million or 28.8 percent of American adults volunteered in 2004-2005, according to a recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This represented a 30-year high in volunteering. And women are leading the way. About 32.4 percent of women volunteer compared to 25 percent of men, and more women than men are volunteering across every state and across all age groups, education levels, and other demographic measures. When you average all the data, it's possible to paint a profile of the typical American volunteer: a female who gives 50 hours of her time per year.

What's more, women with children under the age of 18 and women who work have higher volunteer rates than other women. The fact that working mothers, the very individuals you'd think would have the least amount of "free" time, are holding up the high end of the service spectrum may strike some as counterintuitive. It's not. As we'll explore in later chapters, for many women, being a mom and being part of the workforce means deeper connections in the community, and a deeper commitment to making things better for the future as well as the here and now. Volunteering is one way to act on those connections and commitments.

The fact that mothers volunteer in significant numbers has a ripple effect because young people from families where their parents and/or siblings volunteered are more likely to volunteer themselves. This is great news for the estimated three in four charities that use volunteers, the majority of which say volunteers are critical for the success of their overall operation.

After all, time is money, and the value of volunteer time adds up. Using Independent Sector's estimate of the dollar value of a volunteer's time ($18.77 per hour), the value of the three billion hours of volunteer service in 2005-2006 add up to an estimated $56.3 billion. Women can claim responsibility for providing the bulk of that pot.

6. When You "Sell" to Women, You Reach Men, Too

When Sheryl Hilliard Tucker, the executive editor of Time Inc., was an editor with Money magazine, Money conducted focus groups of men, who represented the majority of their readership, to get a better sense of what they wanted out of the magazine. Tucker and her colleagues discovered that they didn't necessarily just want to be smarter about the issues, but they want to know how to make smart choices. In other words, men said they wanted the same thing from their business magazine that has been a defining feature of women's magazines for decades: practical, real-life advice. Today, the banner headlines on men's and women's magazines are remarkably similar. Cosmopolitan promises to give you the low-down on how to get a flat stomach in 10 days, while Men's Health claims to have the secret to achieving killer abs in, yes, 10 days.

"Women like service, whether they feel confident or not confident. Men's Health has been successful by basing itself on a women's magazine formula, but for men's topics. Men don't like to admit they like service, but they do," according to Lynn Povich, co-chair of the International Women's Media Foundation and a former senior editor with Newsweek.

Women's hunger for, and openness to information is what makes them, in many ways, tougher customers than men. They demand more information before they make decisions, whether it's buying a stereo system or donating to a non-profit. For this reason, many corporations have figured out that when they meet women's higher expectations, they also increase customer satisfaction among men. In Marketing to Women, Marti Barletta describes how the Wyndham Hotel chain took their female customers' suggestion to install magnifying mirrors in the bathroom so they wouldn't have to lean over the sink to apply their make-up. Turns out men use them, too -- for shaving.

In the case of charitable contributions, more women than men tend to want to know how exactly their money will be spent. By being more transparent in connecting the dots between donations and the services your organization provides, you'd be providing value to men and women alike.

Will appealing to women ensure that you'll appeal to men, too? Not always. Men and women have their differences, as we'll explore in the next chapter. But the general principle still stands: when you appeal to the toughest customer, you'll have covered the bases on many of the factors that can turn a "maybe" into a "yes" -- whether your target audience is a man or woman.

Women are on the forefront of all the primary drivers of change: money, volunteer service, and the power of the vote. This is why they are the primary target audience for non-profits and political campaigns. A closer examination of their standing in these arenas helps crack open some conventional, but misguided, wisdom chestnuts such as women's income (and giving potential) lags behind men's, and that by appealing to women, you'll drive men away. In fact, just the opposite is true.

So if women hold the keys to the king- or queen-dom, what does it take to unlock their potential? "Potential" is the operative word here because, while we've demonstrated why women matter, making them count is a whole other story. Because women have been perceived as a niche audience for so long from both the public and political sectors, we are light years behind where we should be in marketing to them to unleash their power as partners in social change.

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal
{{ }}
@2022 - AlterNet Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. - "Poynter" fonts provided by