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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popularly held caricature of Cruella Deville as female executive (think Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada), was an outdated myth.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.