Reading the Room: E-commerce and the Gender Gap

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Reading the Room: E-commerce and the Gender Gap

By Bobbi Leach - 07/26/2016
How often do you count the number of people in a room with you? Answer: Probably not often. It sounds odd that anyone would instinctively do this, but for women in management or executive roles, things are a little different. It’s hard not to notice when you’re typically the only female there. For example, a report by CNET shows that women only make up 23 percent of leadership roles in tech. So, for women looking around the boardroom, it’s even worse.
 
Why is a lack of gender diversity a concern for online retailers today? Because “women drive 70-80 percent of all consumer purchasing, through a combination of their buying power and influence.” How can businesses expect to succeed when their decision makers don’t accurately represent the market? Here are a couple points that leaders should consider about breaking the gender gap:
 
The Value of Diverse Opinions
A critical piece to this puzzle is diversity of opinion. Talent should always drive your hiring decisions, but you should strive for diversity. Not just in gender but also in race, age and belief. While it may be easiest to hire people that are similar to yourself, it’s actually far more valuable to have a diverse team. A study by the National Center for Woman & IT found that companies with diverse points of view tend to have higher sales and a larger market share than their less-diverse counterparts. That’s because diversity lends itself to creativity and innovation and can be very powerful when coupled with a collaborative environment.
 
Furthermore, online retailers need to meet the needs of their customers to be successful. This is easier to do if your team understands the needs of diverse demographics. Having employees who are experts in a variety of markets coupled with an array of genders, ages, geographical regions and cultural beliefs gives you an advantage. It helps you better understand the issues, expectations and pain points each market faces. This awareness will help you improve customer experience and engagement.
 
Starting Young
In order to truly offset the gender imbalance in the business world, it is important to encourage more young women, even girls, to pursue careers beyond the gender norm and strive to be in leadership positions.
 
Societal pressure and conformed beliefs tend to keep young women from aspiring to be leaders – in tech and beyond. Young girls unconsciously obey the pressure to be feminine, gravitating to studying more social subjects. By late elementary school, many female students have already developed negative associations with science and technology, because traditionally these fields are not considered ‘girly.’ By the time they need to choose a focus for college, many young women are not even considering applying to a science or technology-based program. Code.org reports that while women earn 57 percent of Bachelor's degrees in the United States, only 12 percent are awarded computer science degrees.
 
This is what makes improving the gender gap so difficult. As an employer, your first interaction with an applicant often comes shortly after college graduation. If few women are graduating in technology-based fields, how can e-commerce businesses hire qualified women and effectively promote them to executive positions?
 
Business owners and industry leaders alike can help by encouraging young girls to think about entrepreneurship and leadership outside of the traditional school setting. There are a number of female-led organizations that are helping to change the perception young girls have on technology that businesses owners can support.

Growing Support Networks
Kode with Karlie, for example, is a collaborative effort by NY’s Flatiron Tech School and supermodel Karlie Kloss that provides full scholarships to young women, many of whom have no previous experience with technology. What makes this partnership so interesting is that it combines the traditional idea of femininity, exuded by the bubbly Karlie Kloss, with computer science, one of the most male-dominated areas of study. The goal is to show girls that you can be both girly and techy all-in-one, alleviating some of the social pressure to choose one or the other. Businesses who want to support Kode with Karlie can partner with Flatiron to sponsor students or host courses to help local girls connect with tech.

And then there’s Girls in Tech, a global non-profit focused on the engagement, education and empowerment of girls and women who are passionate about technology. Founded in 2007 by Silicon Valley alum Adriana Gascoigne, Girls in Tech was created to provide a sense of community to other women who were dealing with the same issues she encountered and offer young girls the opportunity to prepare for technical careers. Their mentorship program matches girls and women of all ages with mentors who can guide their careers and share insights about what women in technical jobs experience. Supporting a growing community of technical women is a great way to fuel the diversification of technical leadership positions, in retail or other industries.

The Importance of Mentorship
As adult women start their careers it’s important for them to have a mentor – and to be a mentor. While receiving mentorship is important for keeping women engaged and for continuous improvement, female leaders in tech have a significant responsibility to serve as role models and mentors. This illustrates the importance of having diversity in leadership, as it allows younger women to identify with your executive team and know that they too can succeed.

Fixing the gender gap will not happen overnight, but there are shifts in perception taking place right now. A recent poll from Junior Achievement and Voya shows that teen girls now have the same income expectations as teen boys. As leaders in ecommerce, it helps to know about this issue and understand that we can help to create meaningful change.



Bobbi Leach is the CEO of FuturePay, an e-commerce payment solution for the omnichannel shopper. FuturePay’s buy now, pay later option benefits businesses and consumers alike by offering shoppers instant credit while shopping online or on mobile devices without the high interest fees associated with using a credit card.