How Many Boomer Women Have Seats At Your Table?

I read an interesting article in Slate last week about the impact of now having three women (all Boomer women, naturally) on the Supreme Court. It cited a Wellesley study on the role and voice of women on corporate boards. That study found a critical difference in the way women affect those boards based on the number of women on the board; everything changed when the group finally included at least three women. It appears that the voice of each woman is more clearly heard when the question of whether women deserve a hearing at that table itself is resolved; the individual women no longer feel they have to justify their seat at the table. They can finally act like men always have.

If you apply this theory to the Supreme Court, it now means that none of the individual justices has to speak for all women; each female justice can speak for herself, and her fellow justices will actually get a female perspective that is at the same time more particular because it is about the woman herself -- and more accurate. I clerked on the Supreme Court (for Justice John Paul Stevens, whose retirement made way for that third female justice, Elena Kagan) at a time when there was only one female justice, the first one, Sandra Day O'Connor. While justices who had strong wives and daughters (justices like Stevens and Harry Blackmun) have tended to incorporate a female perspective in their work, Justice O'Connor surely felt a different kind of pressure: the assumption that her voice might represent the voice of all women.

What does this have to do with marketing to Boomers?

Over the years I've talked to many Boomer women in corporate America who found that the cost of questioning how their company treated women (as customers and employees) was decades of service on "women's initiatives" or committees that produced regular reports -- and few results.

Generally stated, the problem with these efforts is (at its worst) based on segregating women away from the company's mainstream marketing efforts and (at its best) assuming that there is one monolithic female voice that can be best represented by an all-woman committee.

What is really needed, of course, is giving women -- and at least three women -- a seat at the tables where marketing decisions are being made. These women will not represent all women, nor will they represent women "perfectly" -- as if such a thing were possible. But they will represent themselves fully -- which is just what men have been doing all along.

I run a company where I am the only male employee, so I see the benefits of having not just three, but six, women at the table. The way we discuss issues has more in common with the male-dominated tables where I've spent more time in the past. Each woman brings her own different, particular perspective to the table for our editorial meetings. For example, one team member loves poetry, another hates it, while others like it in measures. The result? We end up with a sense of what people who happen to be women think, rather than a made-up guess about what "women" think as a whole.

Conversations about mistakes in marketing to women, marketing to Boomers, and Boomer women in particular often focus on the fact that decision-makers (media buyers, creative directors, brand managers) are usually 20- or 30-somethings, and usually men. How many agencies and how many brands are willing to create teams that include at least three members of the demographic they target?

I'd like to hear from others about their own stories about what it's like to make marketing decisions without women, and with women (in any number) at the table.

Surely, it's not just corporate boards and the Supreme Court that are the only places where this matters.

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8 comments about "How Many Boomer Women Have Seats At Your Table? ".
  1. Kat Gordon from Maternal Instinct , September 7, 2010 at 10:47 a.m.

    Great questions, Stephen. Thanks for putting them out there. And a special thanks for referencing the advertising industry in your post. I am a female Creative Director -- one of only 3% that exist in this country, aiming to connect with women consumers who make 80% of the consumer spending decisions. The gender discrepancy is so pronounced in advertising that I took matters into my own hands: launching The 3% Conference (@3percentconf). Our goal is to shine a spotlight on this issue and invite others into conversation about how best to remedy it.

  2. Gillian Murrell from Boys Scouts of America , September 7, 2010 at 11:09 a.m.

    Such a thoughtful commentary, Stephen.
    Thank you.

  3. Ian Straus from VIA Metropolitan Transit , September 7, 2010 at 11:11 a.m.

    My boss is a boomer woman, so it's her table.

    However it is a good point that not all woman's issues are "women's issues".

  4. Mark Bradbury from AARP Media Sales , September 7, 2010 at 12:47 p.m.

    Thank you, Stephen. I love this piece. Eighty percent of the marketing team at my office are women. There are more white people than people of color, and more straight people than gay ones, but there's a nice mix of gender, race, sexuality, and age. Surely, our backgrounds influence our perspectives, but we come to the table as individuals, representative of ourselves and not of any particular group to which we may be affiliated. It results in lively, sometimes combative, yet always collaborative, decision making. What's really fun about it not only keeps us productive at work, but it allows us to grow as individuals outside of work. Shout out to our VP-Marketing, herself a Boomer woman, for encouraging an environment where we are all respected for who we are as individuals and expected to contribute as such.

  5. Laura Follo from Marketing Drive World Wide , September 7, 2010 at 12:50 p.m.

    I am in support of agencies utilizing demographic teams to broaden perspective as part of the creative process and I am in full support of more boomer women involving themselves in the process - not only because every woman adds a unique point-of-view but boomer women bring a certain richness of experience to any project.
    I am a boomer woman creative director who has never been, nor plans to be, a young male, a mom, a dad, an older affluent male, a Nascar enthusiast, a beer drinker, a heartburn sufferer. Yet, I have created very successful programming for all of these targets.
    To the 20-or-30-something young male CDs, media buyers and brand managers, I offer this sage advice: Use every method you can to understand the target you are marketing to in order to produce effective, engaging programming that will sell the brand. You don't need to be the target to sell to them. If you can't do it, get out of the business.

  6. Gerry Myers from Advisory Link , September 7, 2010 at 3:17 p.m.

    Stephen. Enjoyed the post. I am CEO of Advisory Link, which has spent the last 20+ years helping companies market and sell more successfully to women. The stages companies have gone through include: not recognizing the market exists, aware of the clout of women buyers, not sure how to reach her, making a lot of mistakes along the way and finally, many have added women to the decision process. However, like men, marketing is a skill set, and all women don't process it.

    You are right. There is no one "woman's market." We are diverse individuals, but we do have a lot of commonality as well.

    One thing we recommend is to have an outside source create a Women Advisory Board for the company. The mix should be tailored to the needs of the company and be mostly women not related to the company in any way. Creating the right mix is the key to success of the Board. When successful, it is undoubtedly the best investment of advertising/marketing dollars a company can make, and is usually a small fraction of the total budget.

  7. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , September 7, 2010 at 6:31 p.m.

    Advertising influences. How long ago did men influence women to stay in the kitchen, do the cleaning and take care of the kids, (sex? You know the old saying: There are women who men marry and there are women who men sleep with.) and stand by your man? It was not just for the sake of selling products; there's an ideology to be perpetuated. Improvements have been made and we must be prepared to ensure that.

  8. Jerry Foster from Energraphics , September 9, 2010 at 3:20 a.m.

    While Sotomajor may turn out to be extremely fair-minded, we will see if Kagan tries to uphold some repugnant feminist laws like IMBRA that tell men they are not allowed to meet foreign women online without being background checked and having the women sign affidavits that they read the result before they are allowed to talk to the American men. Then we'll know if its just the "feminine perspective" or a radical feminist ideology that they "bring" to the Supreme Court. The Congresscritters who voted for much of that unconstitutional nonsense are out of office or about to be thrown out of office (Lisa Murkowski is no longer allowed to represent Alaskan men).

    Regarding "purchasing power," when my girlfriend goes to the store for me, she is buying the products and brands I have shown that I want. Shopping can be seen as a chore that is delegated to someone by another. I would say that women make 60% of purchasing decisions when one takes into account that they are often expected by others to buy certain items.

    Since few women consider themselves to be "feminists", advertising shouldn't be used to spread radical ideology as is happening in Sweden where its illegal to show a female holding a cleaning product. Next it will be wrong to show a woman with a baby in the nursery in an American ad? Not if I can help it.

    Someone's got to have the kids and take care of them. An 18 year old nanny can take care of them? Sure. No problem. But she may also be the preferred candidate for conceiving and bearing them as well. In the latest "Sex and the City" film, Charlotte started to worry about her nanny attracting her husband. Foolishly, the producers meant to say that this way of thinking was just "insecure" as opposed to "realistic". But the 10 heterosexual males who saw that film were drooling over that nanny.

    Advertising directed at the new generation can continue to promote young motherhood and beautiful women in home environments.