Frustrated with the fast-deteriorating mops on offer at the supermarket, 33-year-old single mother Joy Mangano decided in 1992 that she would make a better one. Pouring her life savings into the project, the self-wringing ‘Miracle Mop’ was born – but it did not sell. Facing mounting financial pressure, Joy intuited that the best way to convince housewives to buy was to demonstrate how it works herself.
Using her friendly charisma, natural warmth and deep insight into her target audience, she sold 18,000 mops in 20 minutes on home shopping network QVC – a record. Now a US$50-million serial entrepreneur, Mangano has sold $200-million worth of Miracle Mops in 10 years and was most recently the subject of a 2015 Oscar-nominated film Joy.
Today, we see Joy Manganos everywhere, from Lauren Schulte of Flex, Kate Ryder of Maven and Sharmi Albrechtsen of SmartGurlz, to Australia’s own George McEncroe of Shebah. These incredible women are all creating products by women, for women. Yet they’re also all disrupting their categories and building fruitful businesses on innovations around gender. And these breakthroughs are much needed; business has long been built by and for our pioneering forefathers. Now it is time for inventions from our long-awaited foremothers.
Before you dismiss this as jumping on the fempowerment bandwagon; consider what it really means. Gendered innovation is a financial and purposeful opportunity to be realised, not a femvertising campaign to be rolled out for International Women’s Day. It’s time we rethink of gender as a lens from which fresh invention can be created.
In Dr Alyson McGregor’s 2015 TED talk, she discusses in depth about how 80% of US pharmaceutical recall is due to the serious side effects they’ve had on women – mainly because they were never tested on female subjects before being launched on the market. Car crash dummy testing started back in World War II, yet testing on female dummies did not become a standard until 2003 despite women suffering more severely due to their smaller bones and lower bone density.
On release of Apple’s expansive Health app in 2013, women quickly realised that there was no period tracking or data around reproductive health, even though women’s health apps are the second largest market in the health and fitness app category. This has since been remedied but women’s needs continue to be overlooked and underserved due to the continued bias of a masculine and traditional default. But as women continue to rise; they’re simply not putting up with it anymore.
This isn’t a treatise against the male species. It’s a call for business to harness the power of this prospect: working to better serve a market that is wanting. Attracting and retaining female talent, and creating pathways for success and impact are essential regardless of your innovation priority. But if business truly hopes to tap into this low-cost innovation; then they should take seriously the power and influence of the US$28 trillion global female consumer spend. The hard work behind a true embrace of gender innovation will take a business from a stagnant groupthink today to innovatively outthinking their competitors tomorrow.
Here’s how to start:
Create a culture of innovation that rethinks gender from the top.
Start with your business leaders, get them rethinking the possibilities of gender innovation. Then let it trickle down into a culture that understands how gender can drive a business and its future forward. Senior leadership at Australian vegetable supplier Kalfresh took their wives’ advice to turn vegetable waste into pre-chopped vegetable packets, thereby lifting their profits from A$50 to A$5,000 a tonne.
Audit your business and industry for gender blind spots, and close the gap.
This is more than the pay gap or gender ratio of your leadership. Consider every touchpoint along your pipeline from research to after-sales: are you overlooking or inhibiting your gender innovation potential? Recently, Volvo challenged the traditional business methods of the automotive industry by allowing a group of women to design and develop the first-ever concept car (YCC) for women but many of the features to appeal to both sexes.
Communication is key.
Taking a note out of Mangano’s book, even if your product is fantastic, there’s no assurance that it will sell if you can’t communicate with your customer. For example, the Bank of Montreal (BMO) has incorporated skills training to educate staff on how women prefer to be engaged in financial conversations. Understanding women’s economic rise and the mounting pressures and issues she faces today is always a good start.