If you’re like me, chances are you’ve been feeling a big change coming — like the way the wind picks up and there’s a special smell in the air before a storm. Women are leading this change, and it’s going to change the game for women (as well as men) over the next decade.
I’m not just talking about the #MeToo movement and the record number of women running for political office in 2018 — although both movements are the most public faces of this evolution. I’m talking about the change that’s happening in the world of business leadership — and last week I got a clearer picture of how that change in manifesting.
The idea of “leaning in,” which has dominated discussions about women leading in business for the past five years, may go the way of the baby boomers. It turns out that millennial women see a different path for themselves, one that circumvents the corporate ladder and puts them right into the C-suite. According to Serena Saitas, founder of the NYC-based boutique branding and strategy company REAL, millennial women are starting their own businesses at a faster rate than their male peers. Between 2007 and 2012, twice as many millennial women as men started businesses, and the number of businesses owned by women under 25 increased 40% during that same time period.
Saitas discovered these trends after conducting interviews with hundreds of young female CEOs. Her research, which she presented at a private club in Los Angeles last week to a group of female business leaders, identified this movement that will lead to women fundamentally altering the workplace by crashing the glass ceiling not from the bottom up, but from the top down.
These ideas clearly resonated with the women in the room.
This new generation of leaders isn’t just changing the female-to-male ratio in boardrooms and executive offices; they’re also bringing an exciting new ethos to the world of business leadership. They don’t believe they have to run their businesses within the old paradigm of the traditional corporate office. Instead, they’re bringing new, fresh ideas into the workplace. Most of these women-led businesses have fewer layers of management, meaning anyone with a good idea has a chance to rise quickly. From the get-go they strive for gender equality and racial diversity — a move that benefits both men and women in the workplace.
And they are often bringing a specifically female point of view to product development and marketing. That makes sense when you consider that women drive 80% of all retail purchases. But for the most part, marketing has been dominated by a male-centric view of those female customers. I was particularly struck, during Saitas’ presentation, by a slide showing six categories of female buyers that many advertisers still consider gospel. Upper middle class women with kids are in the “pressure cooker.” Single women are “making ends meet.”
Women like Meika Hollender, who is disrupting the condom industry by marketing from a female point of view, and Emily Weiss, who is changing the beauty game at Glossier, are breaking out of that old mold and marketing to women who defy those categories. (In other words, real, complex women.)
And they’re doing more than just building their own strong female-led companies; they’re putting the rest of their industries on notice that the old way is no longer the only way.
The end result of crashing the glass? As more women take on more powerful roles and make more money, they will become more influential in culture and society, which could have profound ripple effects. Imagine Congress seriously taking women’s needs into consideration when legislating everything from health care to the environment. Imagine women lobbying and speaking at important conferences in equality with men. Imagine the biggest companies on the stock market being run by women.
This doesn’t mean that women overpower men. It means that society starts to achieve something closer to gender parity. As the mother of both a daughter and a son, that’s a future that gives me a lot of hope. And just as a spring storm can bring much-needed rain to make flowers and crops grow, the changes we’re seeing today will bear fantastic fruit down the line.