Search

Staying Away from Clichés: Power Shift 2015 Tackles “Women and Markets”


Nope. No happy shopper stereotypes allowed at Power Shift 2015, even if the theme is Women and Markets.

Nope. No happy shopper stereotypes allowed at Power Shift 2015, even if the theme is Women and Markets.


Avoiding stereotypes and conventional thinking—that was the big challenge in planning a Women and Markets theme for Power Shift 2015.

A few years back, the Harvard Business Review published “The Female Economy.” The authors focused exclusively on how much women consume. Nothing about women and the capital markets.  No nod to the historic entry of female workers into the formal labor market.  Nothing about how gender affects global supply chains. Yet announcing that women are shoppers is hardly newsworthy. Marketing companies have known for decades that women are the world’s consumer engine.

Academic economists treat markets as something that exist only in an abstract landscape, where gender is an irrelevant triviality.  Yet this blinkered way of thinking has led to a global information structure that knew nothing of the economic lives of women until recently—and still struggles to understand.


At base, markets are an elaborate set of social agreements for exchanging the things we need or want. Exchange systems, therefore, are shot through with the same prejudices, inequalities, and exclusions that typify social life. To treat "markets" instead as if they were a set of purely mathematical equations, possessed of the impersonal logic of the cellular or orbital variety, has always struck me as dangerous.

At base, markets are an elaborate set of social agreements for exchanging the things we need or want. Exchange systems, therefore, are shot through with the same prejudices, inequalities, and exclusions that typify social life. To treat “markets” instead as if they were a set of purely mathematical equations, possessed of the impersonal logic of the cellular or orbital variety, has always struck me as dangerous.


We skirted these two chasms of conventional thinking as we planned Power Shift 2015. And, happily, some of the most respected institutions in the world, including some of the most powerful marketing companies, stepped up to help us put together an extraordinary agenda.

Power Shift opens officially with a reception at the Ashmolean Museum on the evening of November 8. Through the grapevine, I have learned that “Power Shifters,” who are becoming quite a community, like to meet up for dinner and even pub crawl together on that first night.  This year we will provide little enamel pins to be picked up at the reception, so that conference attendees can find each other at the nearby Lamb and Flag or the 13th century Turf Tavern or fresh and contemporary Jamie Oliver’s–or any one of the cool little restaurants and historic pubs that dot central Oxford.


Arancha Gonzalez, Executive Director of the International Trade Center, will open Power Shift 2015.

Arancha González, Executive Director of the International Trade Center, will open Power Shift 2015.


The next morning, November 9, the conference will open with a splash!  We are honored that Arancha González, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, will open with a call to action for women’s economic empowerment, building on the resolve of the ITC’s path-breaking Women’s Vendor Exhibition and Forum.  Then, a Power Shift tradition follows: three provocative speeches will run in rapid succession, designed to shake out the easy thoughts and pose hard questions.  In past years, the Power Shift community has found this ritual an invigorating way to start, though I admit it is rather exhausting for the three speakers, who run from room to room giving the same speech to three breakout groups.  This year, the brave souls who have agreed to run this gauntlet are Amy Willard Cross, founder of the new BuyUp Index app; Markus Goldstein, development economist at the World Bank; and Allison Friedman, a leader at the Global Fund to End Slavery.

The three rapid-fire topics will reset expectations.  Amy Cross has invented a new app that uses publicly available data to rate brands according to their woman-friendliness. I like this idea because I have long felt women need to leverage their consumer power to push for gender equality in other domains.

Markus Goldstein will address the question of industry segregation. A common excuse made for economic inequality is that women are paid less, have less access to credit, and so on, because they stupidly choose to go into the wrong industries. Markus will talk about the phenomena behind industrial gender segregation and will share his research on what happens when women step over the line into a market where men dominate.


The term "slave market" conjures long ago images of (mostly) black men in chains. Yet, today there are more slaves than ever in history and 79% of them are female.

The term “slave market” conjures long ago images of (mostly) black men in chains. Yet today there are more slaves than ever in history, and 79% of them are female.


Human trafficking is the most horrific example we have o