I read Forbes Woman pretty regularly because I find many great writers there covering issues of interest to business women. I even aspire to write there myself, but I have a dirty little secret to share about this valuable online publication and many others who cater to professional women. The secret is that I started InPower Women in large part as a reaction against them, because I believe the time for marketing to professional women based on fashion is over.
I remember learning that Forbes was launching a women's publication a few years ago and excitedly clicking over to check it out. I was immediately confronted with stories about celebrities, mommy issues and dress for success articles. My heart sank and I remember lamenting to my female colleagues that I couldn't wait for a publication to come out for real business women who viewed themselves through the lens of their accomplishments and desire to achieve instead of the stuff society assumes trumps those issues for us because of our sex. In that moment, the seeds of InPower Women were planted.
Since that day Forbes Woman has gotten much better and now writes very compelling content for professional women, but two years later as I'm writing this I went to their home page to see how far their home page had advanced. The featured story was about mothers and depression and I had to scroll below the day's news to find articles by women and for women that address issues of angel investing, entrepreneurship, military service and leadership. It's like they are "this" close to treating women first as professionals and second as moms and females, but their editor is just too scared that if they don't put a traditional woman's issue in the headline, women won't scroll down.
Of course the schism between what women want and what we're sold isn't entirely the media and marketing industry's fault, and a lot of us like this content. I'm guessing that enough of us bought the Dress for Success and Work-Life balance books and articles to justify the fashion-and mom-centric marketing view of women that prevails most working women’s sites. These issues were and are real. I remember my mother fretting over what to wear to her city council meeting (she was the first elected official in our little midwestern town in the '60's) because there really weren't many options that looked "serious" in the local department store women's section. Today, dress for success is still relevant, particularly for younger women who think going to work in a mini-skirt and tube top is appropriate (it's not).
And motherhood will always be a relevant issue for many professional women, just like weddings and infant care. When I got pregnant I scoured the magazines and my friends for advice on how to negotiate maternity leave because, hey, I'd never been pregnant before! The difference between my experience and today’s young moms is that now when women look for that content, they will also find articles of interest to women who aren't in the kid phase. They'll be able to read about investing, how to negotiate the corporate ladder, how to start your own business and the effectiveness of women on boards of directors. When I was pregnant a couple of decades ago, that stuff just didn’t exist in resources for working women.
I have to believe this richer content selection reflects the more diverse interests of a powerful market segment. I think that the media is shifting to give women a more well-rounded view of ourselves because we, ourselves, are changing. I find evidence for this shift in diverse places.
Perhaps the most compelling example of how high heeled marketing is losing its grip on the modern professional woman came to me through a friend who is on the Events Committee for her local Chamber of Commerce. The committee decided to run a women's series of networking and educational events. They had sold out attendance for their sessions on financing a small business, strategic planning and outsourcing but had to cancel a Dress For Success event for lack of interest.
What I find most heartening about this shift that is taking place in the time-span of my career is that women are emerging from being a viewed as a voting block or special interest group with a narrow set of interests to being seen as human with most of the same interests as everyone else (ie, men) with some notable exceptions. Of course women will always be the pregnant ones and men will always have a thing for their own biceps, so there will always be a place for women's and men’s publications and segment-unique marketing spins, but as our common interests emerge, the unintentional marketing segregation of the Dress For Success marketing days are numbered.
I, for one, am glad! How about you?
How do you feel when a serious business article is slammed up against how to do your nails to be taken seriously or some juicy celebrity gossip? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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