What stops businesses from seeing girls as a consumer market?

What stops businesses from seeing girls as a consumer market?

If girls and women represent such a huge untapped market, why don’t more businesses develop products and services for them?

What stops businesses from seeing girls as consumers?

There is growing consensus that business has enormous potential to help address societal challenges, achieve economic prosperity and unlock the growth potential of girls and women. The global development community has also ramped up efforts to achieve gender equality by 2030 and made it one of its the Sustainable Development Goals. If girls and women represent such a huge untapped market, why don’t more businesses develop products and services for them? We asked investors, entrepreneurs and donors from around the world: what are the reasons businesses are holding back?

1. Gerda Larsson, Co-Founder and Managing Director, The Case For Her (investor, Sweden): It’s time for financial feminism and a redistribution of power.

Research shows that female-founded companies outperform male-founded companies. They generate both higher return on investment and revenues. Yet in 2016, only 2.5% of all venture funding in the United States went to female founders.

As a result of this lack of leadership and diversity, many markets and consumers are never considered or valued – one of the reasons also women and girls have been an overseen consumer market. Traditional perceptions of men as consumers stop companies from realising the potential of products and services aimed at women and girls.

Take women’s health for example: 75 % of the global health workforce is female, yet women account for only 25 % of global health leadership roles. Valuable information, knowledge, and the experience that leads to innovation is lost, and the needs and experiences of female consumers subsequently under-estimated or overlooked.

Today’s masculinity of power and wealth leads to a reinforcement of structural discrimination against women. To change this paradigm, it’s time for financial feminism and a redistribution of power – meaning that we must include women of all backgrounds in leadership positions and then also (here comes the important part) listen to them. The next generation of technologies and innovations is out there. Use your leadership, capital and power to find and finance them!


2. Vikrant Pandey, Founder and CEO of Fightback Nepal: Our revenue increased by 4.4 times in just one year.

Many Nepali entrepreneurs are completely unaware of the consumer potential of girls so I really think it’s an awareness issue which is rooted in social stigma, a subsequent lack of visibility and female leaders as they’re still expected to adhere to traditional gender roles and become housewives.

So let me change this perception by explaining how my business benefited by pivoting its consumer focus to girls: 1. Fightback’s revenue increased by 4.4 times in just one year, 2. Our consumer numbers increased by 951%: from January 2013 to September 2016, we trained a total of 1000 girls, from November 2016 to December 2018 more than 7000; 3. We started off as a regular security company but by offering self-defence training to girls, we diversified our services to train other relevant stakeholders for creating a safe environment for girls, such as men, boys, parents and teachers. We’ve started selling merchandise, such t-shirts, caps, hoodie, bags, self-defence equipment which have been a huge hit.

I have given you 3 solid examples of how focusing our business on girls has benefitted us. I feel that it is high time that we all start looking girls as a serious and viable consumer market.


3. Iffat Zafar, Co-Founder, Sehat Kahani (Pakistan): Women are often held back by themselves!

Women are often held back by themselves! We women need to break our own internal barriers and be out there challenging ourselves and realise that we can become leaders and change the dynamics that make us invisible – as people, as consumers. This Women’s day let’s promise ourselves to be better and do better.

A lack of confidence and role models are the root causes: Sometimes, I feel we as women are made to undermine ourselves for so long that eventually we lose our confidence. I agree with Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, that women often fear the complexities of added responsibility at work or juggling work and family, instead of just jumping at opportunities like men.

Pakistan, for example, is a very patriarchal country with few economic opportunities for women. When opportunities, such as flexible working hours, do come up, women don’t dare to ask for fear of being judged by their communities because they grew up with all these expectations that come with traditional gender norms, such as having to marry, being a housewife and not sticking out. So, I’d always say: go out there, ask around, challenge yourself and lead change.


4. Andreas Kölling, Deputy Managing Director, Build up Nepal: If they don’t have any purchasing or decision-making power, why bother?

Many businesses in the construction sector find it counter-intuitive to see girls as potential consumers because a lack of financial independence, reinforced by social stigma and traditional gender roles, makes them invisible customers. If they don’t have any purchasing or decision-making power, why bother?

But we discovered that there is huge potential for integrating female construction entrepreneurs, including single mothers, in our value chain: 50% of rural men have migrated to cities or abroad for work. In many villages, only women, children and elderly are left. Why would they not be capable of working in construction?

Our experience of helping 20 women become construction entrepreneurs shows that rural women, with some additional support, can overcome social barriers and successfully start and grow their own construction enterprises as they’re more receptive to our training and coaching than their male counterparts, and more likely to follow best-practices.

There’s a real woman effect: woman-led enterprises deliver more impact – for us, we’ve seen a 30% increase in female construction jobs since one female construction entrepreneur opens the door for other women to work as masons, brickmakers and even contractors, leading to higher income, influence and status for women.


5. Shamyl Bin Mansoor, Co-Founder of LearnOBots (Pakistan): Most businesses are run by men so they don't really empathise enough.

What stops others from seeing girls as consumers? It’s not profitability. Girls are an invisible consumer base because most businesses are run by men so they don’t really empathise enough. If there are more women-led companies, we’ll see more woman solving women’s issues. That’s why we want to empower women to become future leaders.

We believe that technology can change the world for everyone and especially girls, since traditional gender roles that make it harder for them to access jobs in male-dominated sectors like the sciences.

By enabling girls to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects and teaching them about new and exciting technologies, including robotics, artificial intelligence, coding, electronics, we help them pursue these careers.

Girls play a crucial role in any nation’s progress: educating them leads to a brighter future for all. In recent pilots we’ve run with a Pakistani NGO we saw young girls who never had any technology education before learning how to programme robots and draw complex shapes in a matter of weeks!

Our products always supported both girls’ and boys’ education but thanks to SPRING Accelerator, we’re now consciously looking to also create girl-specific solutions. We hope that our success inspires other businesses to do the same.


6. Sadia Afrin, Director of Leadership and Innovation, Leaping Boundaries (Bangladesh): Even if I have a great product and my target market is girls, I won’t be able to sell or get it to her.

In my opinion, a lack of financial literacy among parents, the youth and especially girls is the biggest barrier to seeing the girls as potential consumers – making the development of girl-focused products less appealing to businesses. Even if I have a great product and my target market is girls, I won’t be able to sell or get it to her if she doesn’t have any purchasing power or knowledge of how her family’s income is being spent – because money is such a hush hush topic, she doesn’t know if she can ask her parents to buy it for her. Traditionally, it’s the father who earns, the mother who spends and saves, and no one talks to children about finances so for a large portion of their lives, women are financially depending on their families.

That’s why we need to empower our girls by helping them understand how money works so they can benefit from products and services that are available to them. Once they are financially literate, they will be more conscious about how existing innovations can help them and we, as entrepreneurs, will be able to develop products that cater to their needs and make guaranteed sales.


7. Kate Cooper, Economic Advisor, Department for International Development (UK): Gender specific barriers such as unpaid care, social norms, regulations and discrimination stop women from participating to their full potential.

Through our work with businesses across the world we know that the power of business in helping empower women, either as consumers or in their value chains, and the subsequent benefits for development progress, cannot be understated. So why don’t more businesses provide girl-focused products and services?

I believe that this is because gender specific barriers such as unpaid care, social norms, regulations and discrimination stop women from participating to their full potential, making them less visible as economic decision makers and wage earners and therefore also as viable consumers. Globally, women still lag behind men in labour force participation, access to economic resources and spend, on average, three times as long providing unpaid care to the household.

But women have a huge an unseen potential for businesses and unlocking access to these women in ways which address their time poverty and other gender specific barriers is not only good for business, but also a sustainable way to address gender equality and achieve economic prosperity.