Innovation Is An Untapped Female Talent

Business women pushing a button on a touch screen interfaceIt may come as a surprise to find out that most businesses that target women don’t actually rely on their female employees to help drive innovation, and innovation is a core element for businesses that want to survive and thrive in the future. And women are a very robust part of the consumer market, with growing spending power, as they are estimated to earn a total $18 trillion this year and have control over some $20 trillion in consumer spending worldwide, according to the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI). Any sensible women-focused business should be innovating its products and services in such a way as to get a bigger slice of this huge cake, but few are doing it successfully, because they either don’t know how to unleash the innovative potential of their female employees or they don’t care about the insight these employees have to share.

Remember how Peggy Olson shot up from a boring secretarial job to an advertising career in Mad Men? Yes, that’s right, it happened by accident and good thing that Freddy Rumsen was nearby to see her being innovative and decided to give her a chance. While real life doesn’t have to imitate a TV series, giving women the chance to be innovative, especially in areas that are directly related to them and that they know much more about simply because they are women, is very likely to pay off more than generously in the long term. The CTI found that in a sample of companies (of which 74% sell products and services for women), those that used insights from their female employees to understand their consumers better had a 144% higher chance to succeed. An impressive number, no doubt, but as CTI’s leaders point out, it’s not just the innovative insight, it’s also the working environment in which it manifests itself that matters. A good idea shared with a manager who couldn’t care less about ideas coming from women or who is just too rigid mentally to accept something that may sound exotic, will die very quickly, but on fertile ground it would benefit the whole business.

A case in point is an apparently eccentric decision made by Standard Chartered’s head of branch banking in India, a lady called Rajashree Nambiar. In 2007 she decided to totally transform two of the bank’s worst-performing branches, in New Delhi and Kolkata. Feeling the female customers of the bank were unhappy with the service they were getting she made these two branches women-only in terms of staff, from the managers to the security guards. The manner in which they were serviced and the products they were offered were also relevant to them as women, professionals and family supporters. Perhaps unsurprisingly, between 2009 and 2010, these two branches contributed to the increase of the bank’s net sales by 127% and 75%, respectively, a couple more impressive numbers.

Women have great creative and innovative talent and not just in women-related areas. After all, it was a woman that invented the circular saw, and in the 19th century, at that. It was a woman who invented liquid paper, and it was a woman who invented the compiler, a device that translates commands from English into computer code, not to mention the dishwasher and the windshield wiper. Tapping into that talent pool is one of the smartest things a company can do to guarantee its sustainable success.