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What Do Women Want, and How Do We Get it?

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More and more, women are trying to take charge of what we're in charge of, which, among a list of other duties, includes our children, our homes, and our recreation time. Women control approximately 80 percent of every consumer dollar spent, and, we are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about spending it, too. Home improvement, home purchasing, and the renovation business are just some notable areas where women are flexing their muscles. In 2005, women bought 47 percent of all painting supplies, and nearly half of all new bathtubs! Best Buy, a consumer electronics retailer that historically sold its products predominately to boys and men, saw a dramatic flip several years ago, and now, women outspend men $55 billion to $41 billion. That's significant buying power, isn't it?

In many domains in life, we're shattering old taboos about what we can or can't do, i.e., wield a hammer, purchase dry-wall, handle a mortgage. Whether we're in charge of the purse or not, we're influencing 90 percent of the total purchases. Hmmm. Did Atlas blink?

The female message is loud and clear. "Make way...we're taking our seat at the table." Based on the signals women are sending, many companies have begun to realign their marketing and design practices, and are reaching out to an increasingly female-centric consumer base that has more financial muscle and purchasing independence than ever before. Even with the economy in its current chaotic state of flux, women are a force to be reckoned with. The earth's largest consumer group is made up of women, and we spend about $5 trillion worldwide. More and more companies in the United States and elsewhere are waking up to the fact that if they overlook women, they do so at their own financial peril.

All over the globe, take-charge women are creating new landscapes, constructing new options, and charting alternate pathways for the young girls of the future. Our gender numbers have been gradually increasing, and as of November 1, 2006, there were 152 million females in the United States alone...upending the males, whose numbers topped out at 148 million. In 2007, of the 120 million women age 16 years and over, 71 million -- or 59.3% were labor force participants. And in 2007, 3.5 million of those women worked in nontraditional occupations. Some statisticians surmise that if the current trends continue, women will earn more money in the US than men by 2028. If that is indeed the case, we'll have accomplished the unimaginable; instead of simply serving the proverbial meal to others, we'll be cutting a substantial wedge from the mother lode for ourselves. Now, that's a prediction worth saluting.

But here is where statistics and hard numbers can be disconcerting, and fail to paint an entirely accurate global picture. Though women are nearly half of the US workforce, and women in fact perform 66 percent of the world's work, do we claim ownership of nearly half of the wealth? Nope. Not even close. Here in the US, despite the 1963 equal pay for equal work law, women only earn 77 cents to the dollar compared to men. Globally, we earn only 10 percent of the world's income, and own less than 1 percent of the world's land. As for our seat at the table, are we being equitably represented? Sadly, no...not yet. As of 2005, a United Nations study showed that nearly 96 percent of all Heads of State were men, and about 92 percent of all presiding officers of parliament were men.

Wouldn't you think that because of the sheer number of women that the global issues confronting and confounding women's experience would be better addressed, and command a more prominent place on the national agenda? What is a woman's worth, after all? Perhaps buying power and even the impact of sheer number is not enough. Bella Abzug, famous American Congresswoman and leader of the woman's movement once said, "They used to give us a day -- it was called International Women's Day. In 1975 they gave us a year, the Year of the Woman. Then from 1975 to 1985, they gave us a decade, the Decade of the Woman. I said at the time, who knows. If we behave, they may let us into the whole thing. Well we didn't behave and here we are."

At this seminal moment in history when Americans inaugurate the first African American President, we have an opportunity to dismantle stereotypes and mindsets that restrict the well-being and growth of our society -- including the unbalanced status and representation of women. I am looking forward to it.

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