Are you ready for a female century?

2010-10-02 09:18

To adopt a more balanced approach to our world, we may have to start connecting with our feminine side.

There’s a strange ­undercurrent ­moving through our post-recession world. Many ­businesses feel it, but can’t quite define it.

Some attribute it to the stabilising of the global economy, while others point to the fast-moving change cycles that new technologies bring.

The truth is, it is all this and more.

Some economists believe that we are heading for a ­“double-dip” recession – an ­almighty aftershock, if you will – that will ensure that the 2009 recession makes the Great ­Depression of 1929 look like a mere anxiety attack.

Today, our banking and communication systems are much more integrated than they were 80 years ago, which is why the global impact is amplified.

But double dip or not, there are signs that we have reached a fork in the road, and those with foresight have already taken an alternative route.

In the past two years, we have proved to ourselves that, as a species, we can and will self­destruct if we do not change the way we do things – socially, economically and environmentally.But we don’t seem to heed the warnings.

Already, there are reports that banks are reverting to the risky business practices that kick-started the recession.

Business has reneged on the pledge not to put profit before people, ­ but this time civil society is ­prepared to fight back.

Empathy is being called for, and this is where the female century comes into play.

The concept of a female century is not an anti-male, post-feminist, bra-burning movement but rather a call for a more ­balanced approach to our world, especially in business.

It is widely acknowledged that what got us into this financial crisis was bullish, testosterone-fuelled behaviour.

In an ironic twist of fate, the main casualties of the recession were found in male-dominated industries.

The majority of the eight million or so people who lost their jobs in the US were men.

This has resulted in more ­female workers in America.

It is the biggest social shift for a ­single generation and workforce, and the ripple effect is not ­going to go ­unnoticed.

Before the recession, “women­omics” was already a growing trend.

Statisticians all know that women are responsible for most household purchases, and the global female consumer spend accounts for about $20?trillion (R139 trillion) a year.

It is no surprise that products and ­services are already being ­specifically targeted at women – from insurance to taxis.

The UN has even introduced a female peacekeeping force called “the pink berets” because, it claims, a female presence in areas of conflict has “a civilising effect”.

But the female century is not about gender stereotyping.

Futurologist Daniel Pink adds a different perspective: “The scales are tipping away from what it used to take for people to get ahead – logical, linear, left-brain, and spreadsheet-type abilities – in favour of abilities such as artistry, empathy and big-picture thinking, which are becoming more valuable. Left-brain skills are still absolutely necessary in our complex world. They’re just not sufficient any more.”

Interestingly, technology ­provides us with the tools to embrace a female century.

The rash of social networks – fast becoming business tools, rather than just social applications – encourage the formation of communities and active ­engagement, which in turn has fuelled a consumer revolution.

Brands and retailers have ­discovered that the old broadcast method of speaking at your customer needs to transform ­into a more engaging two-way conversation.

Similarly, in management, ­vertical structures are proving inflexible for our rapidly changing times, and flat, more organic ways of managing (and growing) a business are proving more successful.

Philanthropy is also becoming an essential business policy rather than a marketing tool or badge of honour.

The Richard Bransons and Bill Gates’s of the world are leading by example and showing the social benefits of philanthropic capitalism.

It’s no longer just about making money; it’s about helping to make the world a better place.

Consumers are now pegging their loyalty to firms that show empathy, not greed.

Unfortunately, South Africa is a deeply patriarchal society. Unlike the US, we have a 41% ­female workforce.

However, 70% of informal business is run by women and supports more people per capita than men.

We say “strike a woman, and you strike a rock”, and yet we have a horrific culture of abuse against women.

In terms of this global trend, we are lagging way behind.If we don’t connect with our feminine sides soon, we will hit that rock.

» This is the first of a series of fortnightly trend columns by Dion Chang. To ­contact him visit his website: ­ 

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