This post summarizes the findings of a study conducted by Interbrand and the Power Shift team to explore the potential for a communications campaign to promote the women’s economy. The full report is here.
The research had two stages. First, focus groups were conducted among the Power Shift community at the November 2015 gathering. These were followed by a survey, sent out to the Power Shift database and posted on this website. Since both stages of data collection were conducted among respondents who were already involved in some way with women’s economic empowerment, the results do not reflect the sentiments of the general public or the opinions of “all women,” but instead represent the responses from people of both sexes who have some knowledge of the movement and sympathy with it.
One strong theme ran through the focus groups conducted at Power Shift: these folks see themselves as the vanguard of a new, global social movement that will empower women economically and, in the process, improve living conditions for all people. They were somewhat flummoxed, however, as to how all the disparate groups who operate in this domain—NGOs, foundations, individual activists, grassroots groups, international agencies, major corporations—could be brought under a single organisational umbrella.
As I explained in my speech reporting back on the research, history shows that there is no need for a social movement to occur under a single organisation. Indeed, social movements (including women’s movements) really never happen that way. And, successful movements are usually a loose federation of groups who address different issues and may have different philosophies, but are united under a common moral purpose.
Consequently, it was important that these same respondents were adamant that the focal point for any campaign should be a “common emotive purpose,” even though there are many actions and benefits that come under the general umbrella of “women’s economic empowerment.” They were also emphatic that the campaign should be global, with the twin intentions of (1) uniting women around the world and (2) ensuring that whatever this campaign did would benefit women everywhere, not just women in one region or another. The reasons to do a campaign were:
Increase the movement’s momentum
Change negative “mindsets” about women’s empowerment
Engage more stakeholders
Build awareness among the general public.
The survey that followed distilled the input from the focus groups into a battery of twelve questions. Those results were consistent with the input from the qualitative phase, but also brought focus to the expected benefits that would come from such a campaign, the intended target audiences, and the areas in which more awareness is needed.
The survey respondents felt that the primary objective of the campaign should be to make world leaders more aware of women, especially economically. I thought this was an interesting outcome for two reasons. First, much of the data that has so enlightened us all about the potential benefits of empowering women economically, as well as about the damage inflicted when women remain excluded, comes from some governmental or intergovernmental agency. Yet it often seems like the leaders at the global level are clueless about these important findings and continue to treat women as some kind of “special interest group,” rather than recognizing them as half the world’s citizenry. Clearly, the survey respondents are observing the same kind of thing: all the things we now know about the importance of women as economic actors simply does not seem to have reached the top political leadership.
Since the resources for women’s economic empowerment as a movement might logically be seen to flow from government and its leaders, it makes sense, then, that the next most important objective would be to drive more support for expanding the work this group is doing.
The third objective was to increase awareness among the general public. Interestingly, when we asked who should be the primary target audience for this campaign, the general public came first, but only after we collapsed categories like “educators,” “students,” and “other.” Prior to making that combination, the primary intended audience was policy makers, consistent with the expectation that the main benefit would be to make world leaders more aware.
I personally found it interesting that “employers” were chosen as the primary target audience by only 10% of respondents. For the past fifty years, the feminist movement has tended to focus strongly on equal pay and treatment in the formal workplace. The shift to a belief that it is world leaders who need the wakeup call seems symptomatic of the global scope of this movement and the massive impact its adherents intend to have.
The job ahead is daunting, however, and these respondents seem well aware that their work is cut out for them. When asked how much awareness the general public had of the core issues that concern women’s economic empowerment, the respondents felt no issue had much of an appearance on the collective radar. Perhaps not surprisingly, they felt there was least awareness about the barriers to capital that women experience, followed closely by the potential for growth that is promised by supporting women-owned businesses. However, nearly half of the respondents thought the public was unaware of the simple fact that women are economically disadvantaged in all countries. This observation is dispiriting; however, I think it is an accurate one. As I wrote in this blog recently, Americans, in particular, seem to think either (1) they are the only country in the world with a gender problem or (2) they have solved their gender problem completely (the corollary here being that only poor nations suffer from gender inequality).
When asked what the outcomes of a campaign should be, the top answer was to drive resources to the movement, which was consistent with earlier answers. I think it is interesting, however, that both of the next two answers are focused on equality in the workplace, though one aims at the public and the other at employers. Again, this concern about the equality of formal workplaces has been the emphasis since the 1970s. And, since there isn’t much formal employment in developing countries, these answers signal the awareness among the participants that gender inequality is just as much a problem in the developed nations, though the programs and brochures tend to cast it as a rural poverty matter.
We did not collect much in the way of demographics. The respondents were almost all female and the overwhelming majority came from what we might call “Britain and its developed-nation former colonies”: the United States (55%), the UK (20%), Australia (6%), and Canada (2%). Not surprising, I guess, given the origins of Power Shift and that the survey was in English (and promoted through English-speaking channels). However, I was pleased to see that the remaining “other” category, though only 17% of the sample, represented 18 countries that covered every region (Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East).
I was a little puzzled to see that government was little represented as the sector in which respondents worked. Power Shift has always been strong in the private sector, so that was not so surprising.
This has just been a top line summary, with my own musings. The full report contains verbatims from both the focus groups and the open-ended section of the survey. It can be downloaded here.
Thanks go to Interbrand, especially Andrea Sullivan, Paula Oliveira, Sarah Lent, and Alex Leopold for helping to collect data and produce the final report and presentation. Also to Dr. Rhonda Hadi of the Said Business School at Oxford, and Dr. Laurel Steinfield, of Bentley University, for helping with the focus groups. Julia Flynn, of the Said School, and Asia Elsner, of DoubleXEconomy, helped with the survey data collection. Many thanks to all!