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International Women's Day - a Western woman's luxury?

I was born in a western country.
My father is an engineer, my mother stayed at home to raise three kids.
I ate three balanced meals a day, every day.
I went to school.
I learned to read and write.
I wore braces.
I went to high school and university.
I failed, and tried again.
I had boyfriends.
I travelled, I got drunk, I took drugs.
I straightened myself out and tried again.
I got married and divorced.
I found a job.
I emigrated.
I went to study some more.

I buy books.
I go to the cinema.
I eat in restaurants.
I travel to foreign countries just for fun.
I buy clothes, some for winter, others for summer.
I throw away those I don’t like anymore.

I say what I think.
I have choices.
I weigh my options.
I don’t settle for second best.
I am ambitious, I have dreams, I want more.

International Women’s Day is a western woman’s luxury, defined by a white, middle-class Western woman’s values.  For billions of women throughout developing countries – from Pakistan to Mali – tomorrow will just be another day.

As we celebrate – our right to vote, our right to study, to work, the pill, career choices, postponed motherhood and IVF, equal-pay-for-equal-work, subsidised crèches and boardroom quotas, maybe we should also take a moment to reconsider our measure ofopportunity, our definition of success. And maybe, after 100 years, we should reconsider our definition of feminism and emancipation to reflect the values, beliefs, hopes and dreams of those beyond the boundaries of our own culture.

Think different.


Will women at the top lead to better marketing campaigns? Maybe.

Smart marketing to women isn't just about the way in which we relate brands to their female consumers, it's also about the corporate cultures in which the marketing decisions that affect female consumers are taken.

Traditionally corporations were driven largely by men and male qualities, which no doubt accounts for many a failed marketing-to-women campaign. A lack of awareness and recognition of gender differences in communication begins at home, inside the corporation behind the brand. So unless corporations change on the inside, they cannot hope to change - authentically - in the interaction with their consumers.

Fellow gender expert Michele Mees recently wrote the post
"Should we expect women to change corporate culture?"

Now that the pendulum is in full swing and more and more women are assuming positions of power, the question is: will they demonstrate balanced leadership styles with the necessary respect for feminine qualities and values, or will many simple become clones of the male bullies they so despised during their own careers?

I agree with Michele: we cannot put the responsibility for changing corporate cultures solely on women's shoulders, but we can expect our female leaders to set an example that will help change those cultures.

All too often, women who assume power - whether in large corporations or in their own companies - begin to emulate the domineering, destructive leadership styles they were forced to navigate to craft their own careers.

So yes, female leaders should be held accountable to "walk the talk" and demonstrate balanced leadership styles based on the respect, power-sharing and empowerment they fought so hard for. And so they will help affect a shift in corporate culture - and ultimately in the way in which we approach female consumers.


Wise words by wise women at the global Women's Forum

Great shoes. That’s what surprised me most at the Global Women’s Forum in Deauville, France last week: so many great shoes. Stilettos, pumps, and ballerinas in all colours of the rainbow. Walking between the 1300 prestigious participants I realised that I had never seen such an eclectic group of beautiful, feminine businesswomen together.  The security guards, the waiters and the bellboys all had that same telling smile on their face; one that says ‘hey, this job ain’t so bad’. Clearly, the days when female business leaders emulated their male counterparts to climb the corporate ladder are long gone. These were some of the world’s most powerful business women, politicians and academics and they all had one thing in common: they were proud of their femininity and not afraid to show it.

During two days jam-packed with plenary sessions, workshops and brainstorm sessions, I listened to some of the world’s most visionary thinkers on topics ranging from gender diversity and its impact on business performance to ‘frugal innovation’ and sustainable, socially responsible business models. It struck me listening to these women that the popularly held caricature of Cruella Deville as female executive (think Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada), was an outdated myth. These women were visionary, level-headed leaders committed to making a difference. Women whom in their speeches, whatever their area of expertise, were all looking to find an answer to the same question: how can we make this world a better place for all?

And with these visionary women also came men. A trickling at first – Sodexho, Barcleys, Ernst and Young - the vanguard thinkers. Men who understood that in the postindustrial economy, which is causing a monumental power shift from men towards women, we all need to evolve in order to survive. Moira Forbes of ForbesWoman put it plainly during the opening debate: “Innovation isn’t optional in today’s economy. Stagnant leaders and organizations will fall by the wayside.”

Throughout the conference, I heard some pretty amazing statements, some of which I want to share with you here as food for thought.

It’s not the rules of the game that are being redefined, but the game itself”Peninah Thomson, Director, FTSE 100 cross-company mentoring programme.

Wendy Luhabe on the accountability of female CEOs toward other women: “When you build a society and people want to be in leadership positions, they must be held accountable. If you assume a CEO position we expect to see women in all levels of your organization and we expect to see women on your boards. How can we expect men to be the champion of gender equality when women who are given the opportunity are not prepared to be?”

“Innovation is not a process, it’s a spirit within a company. I can’t arrive at the office on a Monday morning and decide ‘ok, let’s be creative today’.” - Zhang Xin, CEO, Soho China

Peninah Thomson on the low number of women in executive positions and on boards: “It’s always been a supply-side issue. We’ve always said ‘Let’s fix women’. Now we’re looking at it differently. It’s a demand issue. It has nothing to do with supply. Let’s look at how we shape demand.”

“The new economy requires a new leadership skill set: adaptability, flexibility but also a tolerance for failure.” – Moira Forbes, ForbesWoman.

Barbara Bylenga of Outlaw Consulting on Generation-Y as drivers of change: “Generation-Y has separated money from the concept ‘success’. They no longer link the two.”

Viviane Reding, Vice-President European Commission on having it all: “I have done it all and I have raised three boys. I think women should have it all. Do men oppose being fathers and being professionals? No.”


Women finally "ready for a change".

Good news, ladies! When it comes to vaginal health, our periods and 'all things down there', we are finally ready to face the truth! At least according to Kimberley Clarke, the company behind the "U by Kotex" campaign.

Don't get me wrong: making vaginal health a discussable topic (or "taking the shame out of being a woman" as the Kotex brand guy puts it) is a great initiative and the campaign has some very creative, funny commercials that poke fun at the way advertisers used to talk about all-things-period. 

Indeed, we shouldn't be embarrassed about having our period: we should dispel myths and teach our daughters that it's nothing to be ashamed of. And it's great that Kotex wants to "become a champion for women and a torch-bearer for a momentous cultural shift", but to say that it's because "women are ready for a change", as Andrew Meurer of Kotex says here, is taking things a tad too far. As if Kotex has always been ready to lead us to enlightenment, but we weren't quite ready yet.

Great initiative Kotex - really love the ads! - but go easy on the "torch bearing, trail-blazing category champion" leading women to a new reality bit, please.


Targeting the Chief Health Officer.

Health. That deceptively short word occupies a very significant amount of a woman's mind.  Whether they're thinking of loosing five kilos, buying a face-cream with sufficient sunblock or contemplating which yogurt contains less sugar and more active bifidus and is therefor healthier for the kids, not a day goes by in a woman's life without her considering someone's health - either her own or someone close to her.

I could therefor only applaud when Isabella Lenarduzzi of JUMP recently launched the 'Women's Health Academy' - a series of workshops centering on women and their health that she plans to build up over the coming months. Why? Because women are actively looking for information on how to improve their health - be it to slow down the aging process, loose weight, osteoporosis or breast cancer - and all too often brands do not make it for them to find the info. Clever are those, such as Isabella, that facilitate this knowledge transfer by bundling information on topics and invite experts in to discuss and answer questions as she does in these workshops.

Traditional loyalty strategies such as incentives and coupons are no longer enough to help you effectively reach your female consumers. If you are in the healthcare marketing business, here are some vital tips to reach your female consumers:

1. Talk with your female consumer. Women are often called "co-creators". Use this willingness to get involved and share their opinions, experiences and insights to your advantage. Ask them what they want, how they want to see your product / service evolve in informal 'feedback groups'. Not only will you get a wealth of valuable information, your consumers will also feel more connected to your brand.

2. Educate her. Women are constantly looking for information on topics related to their health. They  will research and seek information in much more depth than men do. Why not facilitate this need for information by hosting a series of workshops or building a central knowledge platform on your product or service? Women value a personal and interactive experience that shows that you care.

3. Make it practical. Make sure your information offers a good combination of solid fact and real-life experience. A professor or doctor to provide the theoretical facts, ex-patients or "experience experts" to give a view on the actual experience.  

4. Engage rather than sell. Remember that men and women buy differently. Men are driven by the deal. Women, on the other hand, first need to form a relationship of trust. Listening, coaching, engaging and offering her the opportunity to co-create are all ways to ensure you establish a long-term relationship with her.

5. Cut the cr*p! There's nothing worse than knowing that you're not being told half the message because people think you won't understand. Don't dumb down your message. Yes, take her level of subject knowledge into account (she's not a doctor or a scientist), but never speak down to her. Instead, provide detailed, truthful answers to concrete questions. 

As Kelly Connors of Real Women On Health says: "marketers who shift their marketing paradigm from a "sickness" model focused on the treatment, to a "wellness" model focused on the individual woman will succeed."

And then there's the age old "be real" that we at Muse always harp on: "There's nothing more personal than healthcare and women detect inauthenticity quickly", concludes Connors.


Flirting at work - the last taboo?

I didn't start it, I promise. It all came about after the article "Flirting your way to the corner office" in Forbes Woman. When Isabella Lenarduzzi of JUMP - an organization that focuses on empowering women in the workplace - asked me to write a guest column on the topic for her newsletter, of course I said yes! We're both strong believers in the joys of flirting and we wanted to put the taboo topic on the table to clarify a few misconceptions for once and for all. Little did we know that it would open a true pandora's box! Newspapers, radio stations, even television programs suddenly want our views on the topic.

Flirting at work: done or not done? My original article below. You decide!

Let’s flirt!

I know that what I am about to say will probably get me tarred, feathered and hung out to dry by the majority of women, but I’m going to say it anyway: I think we all need to flirt more often, also at work. But before you start making that voodoo doll of ‘a certain writer’, please allow me to explain.

Flirting has always received a bad rap. Just utter the word and most people colour green with jealousy and shudder at the imagined implications: sexual attraction, the beginning of an affair and of course ultimately divorce.

I think it all goes wrong with the definition of the word “flirt”. The Oxford Dictionaries define it as “to behave as though sexually attracted to someone, but playfully rather than with serious intentions.” Being the subjective creatures that we are, we immediately focus on the words “sexually attracted” and completely ignore the bits about “as though” and “without serious intentions”, which are pretty crucial in the definition. For the purpose of clarity, I suggest that we tweak the definition a little to read “to behave as though attracted to someone, but playfully rather than with serious intent”.

Suddenly “flirting” seems a lot less threatening, doesn’t it?

Now the definition reflects the reality of flirting as most decent, well-balanced adults practice it: playfully teasing someone – with no serious intent.

I think flirting is healthy. I flirt often and in all kinds of situations. I flirt with men and women; I flirt with friends and their boyfriends. I flirt with the mechanics at the garage and strange men behind me in the checkout queue. My best friend (a happily married mother of two) and I build evenings of laughter on endless flirtatious quips with each other. Hell, I even flirt with my granny. I do this because I like the person in question, because I hope to illicit a playful response and maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll generate a buzz of upbeat, playful energy that will leave us both sporting the silly grins only spirited play can bring.

But when it comes to talking about flirting – no matter how innocently - in a professional environment, most of us still squirm uneasily in our ergonomically correct office chairs. It seems so politically incorrect to even ponder the thought, doesn’t it? Because what woman would admit  – quelle horreur – to flirting her way to the corner office?

Following the recent publication of two books on the topic, Forbes Woman ( dragged the hairy topic into the spotlight for some serious discussion. Does flirting advance or sabotage your career? Does it undermine your professional standing or is it – if done with finesse and careful nuance, just a good networking skill? Nicole Williams, author of Girl on Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules into Career Success views professional flirting as part of good networking skills. Many of the same rules apply: Maintain eye contact, smile, show interest by asking questions, listen. Flirting then goes a step further, adding a dash of flirtatious nuance: a compliment or a quirky remark, friendly body language or a gentle touch.

Many women will be quick to point out that this type of light-hearted behaviour can easily backfire. That being labelled the office flirt is the last thing any woman wants; and that men are notoriously known to misconstrue a woman’s friendliness for romantic interest - both of which are of course valid concerns.

But it is also in these two pitfalls that we find the secrets to enjoyable and successful flirting – whether in business or social situations. Flirting should be subtle and refined, never brash. It should be playful and light, never heavy. Most of all it should be gentle and kind and never be born of malicious intent or dubious ulterior motives.  And as in any social interaction, you have to be able to read the situation correctly. Is there room to be playful?  Is the person in the right frame of mind? After all, flirtatious behaviour should be enjoyable to both parties and never make someone feel uncomfortable.

I think flirting has misguidedly received a bad rap for long enough. Let’s cast off it’s doomsday coat of projected insecurities and dark fears to see it for what it should be: a playful exchange of energy between two people.

I say we should all flirt much more often – also at work. Life is serious enough and as most of us spend the largest part of our day – and by extension our adult life - at work, we should also have some fun while we’re at it.  For wouldn’t it just be the saddest life if we spent all that time as emotional flat-liners just because we’re afraid of what others may think of our playful side?


Beer's untapped potential with women.

There are numerous product categories in which the opportunity to target women is a playing field that lies wide open: automotive, wine and banking are but a few. Another category that presents enormous opportunities for marketeers: the beer market.

Women have always had a love-hate relationship with beer. Even though women's beer consumption is impacted greatly by local customs and culture and thus varies greatly from country to country, there are a few universal prejudices and myths that severely impact women's consumption of beer, regardless of the country they live in.

Women's top arguments against beer drinking, according to a study by brewer Molson Coors:
1. Women still view beer as a "manly" drink.
2. 42% of women believe advertising has to change to make beer more appealing.
3. 25% said they think they wouldn't like the taste.
4. Almost 50% believe they will put on weight if they drink beer.

These findings are not surprising if one keeps in mind that the beer industry is one which has traditionally focused on men's needs and wants when it comes to developing and marketing products. And the few beer brands that have dipped toes into the waters of marketing their products to women do so by "pink washing" their products: same product, same positioning, pink label.

Even in Belgium, arguably one of the world's leading beer-drinking countries, women still feel left out in the cold when it comes to main-stream beers. (Here, they've developed - specially for us girls - beers made from cherries or raspberries). The danger of this approach however, is twofold: women feel patronized and men feel alienated. No-one wins. And when it comes to mainstream 'blond' beers - everyday, easy-to-drink beers, they're still marketed to appeal to men. Slogans for the biggest selling brands are a case in point: "Jupiler - men know why" or "Men, mates, Maes" will alienate female beer drinkers.

Kirsty McCready, who is assisting brewer Molson Coors in reaching female consumers hits the nail on the head: "We're not going to reshape the industry by simply launching beer products aimed at women," says McCready. "We need to look at the bigger picture and encompass the whole beer-drinking experience."

McCready highlights 3 key strategies to increase women's beer consumption:
1. Create innovations to change the taste of beer. (Think wheat beer spiced with coriander and orange peel served with a slice of orange).
2. Create "new ways (and new moments!) to drink beer" (think beer cocktails).
3. Launch myth-busting campaigns that speak to women in an appealing way about their prejudices surrounding beer.

Another great tactic brewer Purity Brewing Co employs to appeal to women? Use a beer-loving female celebrity to front the brand! Some creative thinking can extrapolate the idea into some great activities!

Women are ready to call themselves 'beer drinkers' as much as they identify themselves as enjoyers of wine. The question is: are beer brewers ready to acknowledge this opportunity and make the necessary decisions and investments to go after this opportunity successfully?

Read full article here.


A worthy example to all women!

What a great, empowering video!


The underwear ad Belgium decided to ban.

Western Europe isn't exactly known for its prudish attitudes toward sex, drugs and rock-'n-roll, and yet...

Recently, Belgium's Jury for Ethical Practices decided to ban the Tour De France inspired billboard campaign of underwear manufacturer Sloggi. During the weeks of Tour De France hype, many billboards featured the 'Tour panties' as they quickly became known. "To capitalize on cycling-minded Belgium", according to Rob Brand of Sloggi Benelux.

This is it, ladies and gentlemen: the offensive campaign:

Which is a follow-on to this campaign (not considered offensive):

Now I must add that Sloggi is renowned for its sexy ads showing female butts. The brand even hosts its own 'most beautiful behind' campaign each year, so sexy butts are part of their visual identity.

Having said that, the question is: does the 'cycling campaign' offend me any more (or any less) than the 'scooter campaign? No.

Has the campaign enticed me to run to the store to buy one of the famous Tour panties? No. (But even if I wanted to I could buy one, I couldn't - because they don't exist! "We only made those for the campaign, not as real products" a salesman assured his customers recently).

Obviously this is a brand awareness raising campaign tagged onto a current-affairs event to maximize its relevance. So if the question is, has the campaign fulfilled that objective, the answer is yes.

If we speak of effective marketing - marketing that supports sales - the questions I'd love to get an answer to from Sloggi are:
Did it appeal to your customers and prospective customers?
Did you notice an increase in sales?
Has it affected/increased your market-share?
Or are you happy to call it 'successful' because it raised your Share-of-Voice for a few days?


A few good women.

The automotive industry is one of the traditional male bastions in business. All men and (almost) no women. But the industry is changing...slowly. Here's a team of female engineers at Ford, making a case for why the industry needs a female touch.

(...and what great PR for Ford, don't you think!)