It used to be that the business landscape was a man's world. Times have certainly changed! Today, women are wielding more and more power on both sides of the business transaction. First, let's look at some facts from the consumer side. In family purchases that involve two adults (a woman and a man), women make:
- 94 percent of the purchase decision on home furnishings
- 92 percent of the purchase decision on family vacations
- 91 percent of the purchase decision on home purchases
- 80 percent of the purchase decision on health care
- 60 percent of the purchase decision on family cars
- 51 percent of the purchase decision on consumer electronics
This brings us to the other side of the equation. Who is running and leading the companies that make the products women are buying for themselves and their families? Increasingly, it's women.
In 2012, 18 of the Fortune 500 companies will have women CEOs at the helm. While at first glance, 18 may not seem like a lot, but it's an all-time high and shows the steady pace of women leading the largest companies in the world.
Even more interesting is that we're now seeing women lead companies in industries that have been historically male dominated. For example, for the first time ever, IBM chose a woman CEO, Virginia "Ginni" Rometty. Hewlett-Packard, another technology company, named Meg Whitman as their CEO in September 2011. These are just two examples of global, male-dominated companies now run by women.
And this trend isn't just in the U.S. India, for example, has more women CEOs than the U.S. And over the past 30 years we've seen the number of women leaders in the Middle East, Africa, China, and Europe increase as well.
Now it's important to note that so far we've just been talking about CEO spots at major corporations. Add in the number of female CEOs at small and mid-sized companies, female upper level managers, and female entrepreneurs, and you can see that we're actually talking about a large number. And these are numbers you wouldn't have seen twenty years ago. So women are definitely making their mark and exerting their business power.
The New Hard Trends
Some people may say the rise of female leaders is surprising. I say it's 100 percent predictable. In my book, Flash Foresight, I make the point that in an uncertain world, you have to ask yourself, "What am I certain about?" Strategy based on uncertainty has high risk; strategy based on certainty has low risk. There are a number of certainties in today's world that make the rise of women obvious.
- Relationships are number one.
Most people and even scientists and researchers agree that women and men think differently in terms of relationships. Women are more adept at relationship building. If we have too many leaders in an organization who are men, we don't have a balance and we don't have the ability to grow relationships with a holistic approach. That's because men tend to be informers while women tend to be real communicators.
This is important and timely, because we're shifting from the information age to the communication age. Social media is all about communicating and engaging, and women have the upper hand here. So the shift in business from informing to communicating provides great opportunity for women leadership.
- The big picture matters.
Obviously, it's not that men can't be system-thinkers. But over the years as men were in leadership positions -- not just the CEO level, but all lead managers -- they focused on "give me the job to do and I'll focus and get it done." That's certainly important, but sometimes that mindset works against you as things become more interconnected.
- Collaboration is key.
Everyone has heard of "silos" in companies. We have massive silos in all sorts of industries. The key is to break those silos down and get people communicating, collaborating, and working together. No job is just a technical job; every job is also a human job.
- Passion counts.
- Taking risks (carefully) is essential.
A Brighter Future
Granted, some people may say all these elements are generalizations, but there is truth in generalization. So while all these traits may not apply to every woman, if you look at the group as a whole, these things tend to be true.
So the bottom line is that diversity has always been an unbelievably powerful force in any company -- not just racial diversity, but male-female diversity too. All diversity gives you better solutions to challenges, allows you to solve problems faster, and enables you to see opportunities better. This is crucial, because over the next five years we're going to be transforming how we sell, market, educate, train, communicate, collaborate, innovate, and much more. Thanks to today's rapidly evolving technology, we're witnessing the biggest game-changing transformation that any of us have ever lived through. And we're going to need a variety of thinking, diversity, and people working together in a collaborative, communicative way to make a positive and productive transformation possible.
As we look to the future, we're going to see the number of female business leaders growing even higher because we need the balance. We need the creativity. We need men and women working and leading together in business and in government. So if you're a man reading this, support the women in your organization to reach new heights. And if you're a woman reading this, think about your career. Plot it out. Make it happen. We need you!