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Equality Ethel Finds Her Power

This new app presents the 21st century potential to put consumer power to work for winning equality--a strategy our great grandmothers used to excellent effect.

This new app can help women put their current power to work winning future power. Download it. Now. I’m serious.

Consumer purchase is the lifeblood of the world economy, every bit as important as capital. And consumption is the one area of the economy where women don’t need to beg for power because they already have it.  Women control most purchasing decisions, even in categories traditionally thought to be dominated by men, and companies are very sensitive to their disapproval.  If we harnessed that power to make gains in more intractable areas—to push for affordable child care or maternity leave or equal pay—I think we would be amazed at how much faster the wins would come.

I’ve said for years that the one way to make companies and governments get serious about equality would be to declare an international Stop Shopping Strike.  But the era of consumer boycotts is probably over forever. It is very hard to pull off a boycott these days.  And such actions sometimes negatively affect workers.  So we need a new way to bring consumer pressure to bear.

Well, it’s here.  So listen up.

There is a new app, now available for iPhones and soon for Androids, called Buy Up, that displays a women-friendliness rating for brands.

Equality Ethel is the spokesperson for Buy Up Index.  Your shampoo choice may seem a small thing, but multiplied by millions of other female buyers, week after week, it can bring nuclear-strength pressure for change.

You don’t need to know what company makes your brand.  You can just put in the brand name and the app will tell you what the rating is. The ratings are based on a complex set of public measures that include things like whether the company provides maternity leave, whether they have any women in the top leadership, and so forth.

And, friends, let’s face it, most of our purchases, day in and day out, are for parity products.  We may convince ourselves that our usual brand of household cleaner is better than another one, but we secretly know that the differences are only observable under a microscope. So, we may as well let “women-friendliness” break the tie between Brand X and Brand Y.

I am convinced that if women get behind something like this, it will work.

Buy Up is also a women-owned tech business.  The whole board is female. The company that brings you this app is, therefore, all the things that the new “women’s economic empowerment” movement loves.  For those of us (including me) who are constantly going on about the need to better include women in the economy, this app should be the darling of the hour. Every one of us should literally put our money where our mouth is and start using this app to shop with.

Vigilant female shoppers have made "responsible consumption" work for all kinds of causes. Why not our own?

Vigilant female shoppers have made “responsible consumption” work for all kinds of causes. Why not our own?

At this moment, though, Buy Up is like a newborn, trying to survive its first few months of life.  What it needs, more than anything, is lots of downloads, so it can survive the opening stage of business, get more capital, and develop further.

So, if you have an iPhone (and I know you probably do), I am asking you to stop right now and download Buy Up.

Really.  Right now.  Don’t make a call or a cup of coffee first.  While you are thinking about it, just get the download right this minute.

Are you back?  OK.  The next time you have a few minutes (maybe on the subway or in the doctor’s office), start playing with it.  You can look at the different screens to learn the gender differences between companies and even between industries. You will be surprised at some of what you learn about what you buy.  And some of it will make you mad enough to change what you buy. (Japanese car companies anyone?)

Yet you will also find some pleasant surprises.  There are some “good guys” out there and we should reward them with our brand loyalty.  If the company who makes your shampoo gets an A+, look and see what else they make that you can buy instead of the less gender-conscious brand on your shelf right now.

We can keep trying to get equality by asking the grizzled heads of industry very sweetly to be more fair.  Or we can display a little more realpolitik by pushing harder with the one serious power we already have.


Amy-Willard Cross, founder of Buy Up, will be a speaker at Power Shift 2015. Read more about our great lineup here

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