Gender Economics is the fusion of sociology, economics and gender studies and looks at shifting current perceptions of gender and how we use these perceptions in framing economic policy. Very often, it is an intersection of gender, values and beliefs that create policy decisions, many of which are based on outdated models. It is important that we start to understand how economic research is conducted, how the statistical analysis is created and how this flows into policy decisions and ultimately the business bottom line.
“Gender Economics is about “dissecting and creating a new discourse around economic theory that fuses Economics, Gender and Sociology” [Moore, S, 2012]
Think of a persistent organisational challenge and start to unpick it by looking at the assumptions and environments that created the challenge in the first place, chances are the core of the challenge has been created by imposing outdated business models, values and measurements that no longer work. Then reframe the challenge by applying new thought paradigms and you may very likely uncover innovations that lead to increases in performance. Traditional gender stereotypes have shifted and organisations can no longer assume that they are catering to the working heterosexual white male with a wife at home because the ground rules have changed. According to Wikipedia2, the US LGBT consumer market in 2013 ‘is estimated to have an overall buying power of more than $835 billion’. This demonstrates that marketing to this group requires specialisation to reap the benefits of that economy.
Much of our business culture is centuries old from the structures to the drivers, and our organisations must change to keep pace with a global economy where diversity, and cross-cultural management enforce new skills around managing complexity.
In 2009, the Harvard Business Review3 made the bold statement that “Women now drive the world economy”, and estimated that globally women will control about $20 trillion in annual consumer spending over the next five years. Look at any social networking site or news stream and you will see articles that recognise that the financial empowerment of women is a game changer. Businesses must now attract talent from a wider pool, some from necessity, but many recognising that by developing a “Women’s Employer of Choice” reputation, it will ultimately help them increase their competitiveness in the market. However, it is not as simple as painting women’s issues with a ‘pink’ brush, organisations must understand the shifts that have taken place in gendered stereotypes and how this sociological change now affects business structures and changes in economic policy formation.
Gender Economics looks at how gender influences economic decisions and how those decisions impact gender. The way we target gender for economic gain or increased market share can either benefit or degrade the rights of marginalised groups, often leading to policy formation with an underlying gender bias overlaid with a view on how economics, policy and gender interact with society.
This emerging field challenges current economic theory, broadening the conversation to encompasses sociological complexities currently at play in society – ie: we look to deconstruct economic policy, reconstructing it in a manner that allows us to develop rational and objective tracks for further research. Issues of female inequality have persisted for decades if not centuries and instead of talking about the issues, Gender Economics explores underneath the issue and provides new discourses that have the power to change the way we work and live. A simple example of Gender Economics and a persistent issue is the gender wage gap in Australia that continues regardless of the amount of effort and talk that goes on. In 1907 Australia passed a little known policy known as the “Harvester Judgement ” that saw the start of reduced wages for women in preference to that of the ‘working family man’. This policy was introduced primarily to give organisations a competitive advantage through the use of cheaper female labour and this precedent continues today with feminised work segments in organisations exploiting cheaper labour without thinking about leveraging their diverse workforce for gain.
Much of our business culture is centred on the concept of scarcity, of not enough to go around but where did this thinking process start? Staying competitive by having unique products that differentiate you from the rest of the marketplace can lead to a culture of aggressive competition and cost cutting. With more organisations becoming lean and agile what if the model moved from one of scarcity to one of ‘abundance’. What are the attributes of abundance and is it just a mind shift or can we create business models that promote it? Some argue that the accepted female attributes of sharing and collaboration may lead to a richer business environment, so would increasing gender diversity change your organisation?
Gender Economics is the new Business Transformation, the next major resource, and will open a channel to increased innovation and creativity through Diversity of Thought and the ability to maximise the management of our increasingly complex environments. Organisations that understand that gender balance is the new competitive edge will be better equipped in a global marketplace where women are increasingly taking their place at the decision table. Whether it be a increased awareness of women’s economic impact at a country level or that gender diversity has been shown to add benefits to company board, women are learning to invest in themselves and their financial future.
There are many persistent gender issue’s that just don’t seem to go away and this is particularly true in areas of gender inequality, and I feel that this is because we so often talk ‘around’ the issues instead of deconstructing them and understanding why they are issues in the first place. The next step is to start unpicking current thinking on economics and business start reframing our thinking, putting age-old issues into new contexts – that is Gender Economics at its core!