According to  the Female Leadership Crisis report just put out by Accenture, Mercer, and NEW, "The female executive population is projected to decline by more than 50 percent over the next decade. If the status quo remains, women will comprise just 15 percent of executive ranks by 2027, compared to 35 percent today -- a trend in the wrong direction." As a woman in a leadership role, and mother with daughters, this is concerning, and for more reasons than you may realize.

Why does this trend matter in product design?

I am not bringing this point to the table only because I am a woman. I am bringing this point to the table because I live in the world of product design and the gender bias is so real, it's safe to call it a crisis. Retail and design lack gender inclusivity and it shows in the massive product failure gap I talk about all the time. And while everyone is talking about bringing retail into the modern world, I am wondering when we might bring women into product design too, and be honest about why the gap exists in the first place, and how we can begin closing it.

What is the female problem?

Given that women account for 85 percent of all consumer purchases, creating a culture in retail and consumer goods that not only attracts, but develops, advances and retains women leaders is a business imperative. Yet, this industry, which must have its finger on the pulse of the female consumer, continues to struggle to retain its female employees. I have said this a million times, and now, a million and one. An industry directed at women which lacks a foundation of female support, feedback, ideas, and growth, is nonsense. 

What is the solution?

Well, that's really a loaded question, but I can see the beginnings of change in larger corporations and I wonder where these new pathways will lead us. Diversity inclusion and bias training is something we are seeing take off. As we see globalization of companies and products, we are also seeing the need open up for understanding and appreciating the growth that lies in diversifying. 

67% of Fortune 500 companies have made diversity inclusion a top priority.

Design Isn't the Only Area Suffering from the Bias

When it comes to retail, we see the product failure gap, and it is massive. Seven out of ten products failing is not a sustainable model, no matter how big a business we are looking at. Eventually these losses will take their toll, something we are already seeing right now. This growing crisis of relevance and widening of the gender bias gap, in my view, is only going to expand with AI and our current model of working. Let's be honest about a few points:

  1. Empathy through experience helps
  2. Data is inherently biased and untrustworthy to inform design decisions
  3. Valuing visionaries (of all genders and cultures) in the context of diversity is absolutely necessary

A few more points on how how to combat this growing bias:

  • Keep examining the bias
  • Question the data, especially the AI data
  • Develop an inclusive design vision & team
  • Cultivate a relevant point of view - if it matters to your consumers, it better be a priority to get this right, this means it is a retail must.

The Bottom Line Is Clear Here

Company leaders who determine why they are losing female talent -- and provide reasons for qualified women to stay-- will create a distinct competitive advantage. - The Female Leadership Crisis Report

When you can clearly see the potential effects on the bottom line, along with the potential growth opportunity in understanding the design and retail gender bias and diversifying, that's one step closer to surviving the retail apocalypse and thriving. 

Published on: Apr 19, 2018