How and in what direction are new working environments, future workplaces and emerging work methods developing? In our current series of Bene’s Office.Info, we try to track down the major trends for the coming years.
"And here’s the women’s model," said the salesman, moving away from the black leather swivel chair to show his prospective customer the model with orange upholstery. When the woman then leaves the shop without buying anything, he asks himself in confusion: "Did I do something wrong?" Something dawns on him...
We all know the books about women who can’t park and men who don’t listen. And even though they amuse, annoy or bore us, that famous "grain" of truth is always in there somewhere, to use a fine phrase (oh, really?). Which leaves us with the legitimate and timeless question of how male/female perspectives are reflected in professional and working life, excluding the most politically controversial discussion of social equality.
What is certain is that gender aspects have become a part of everyday life in the business sector. In product development and sales, the term gender marketing has been widely known for several years; of course the principle behind it has been around for much longer. Marketing is always geared towards certain target groups – and gender marketing behaves in exactly the same way. Following the example of the pioneering countries USA and Scandinavia, gender concepts have been consistently implemented in Central Europe – with a few exceptions – for around five years now.
And just to make sure that we know what we are talking about: unlike the word "sex", "gender" is a person’s social description which is not given by nature, but is a social, cultural and political construction.
Gender marketing is based on the approach that women and men – owing to their different gender roles – also have different needs and requirements in relation to a product. Their diverging lifestyles and situations lead to different purchasing decisions. Gender marketing tries to accommodate this in the development of products and services, and also their marketing.
We have long been familiar with the tactics for body-care products such as shampoos, shower gels, etc. Women’s products are pastel-coloured or white and advertise with the words "health" or "beauty". Men’s products are preferably black or blue and seek to attract potential buyers with "activity" and "sports". The question is whether such external criteria can really be regarded as gender-specific. The fact is that clichés are upheld right down the line – and they work, even though we are unwilling to admit it.
From children’s toys to mobile phones and foods, products are therefore increasingly tailored to the planned gender target group. "Male" products are given a "female" counterpart – and vice versa. Coca-Cola light, for example, which according to sales figures is particularly liked by women, was joined a few years ago by its male variant Coke Zero, which has a more bitter taste. The undoubtedly identifiable, different sensory perception and taste preferences are interesting here. The advertising unfortunately remains clichéd and one-dimensional.
A popularly cited example of particularly successful gender marketing is the cordless screwdriver Ixo by Bosch. During its market research activities at the end of the 1990s, the company discovered a group of sporadic DIY enthusiasts who were mostly women. They were looking for small, compact power tools without a lot of frills, and not specific "women’s products". With Ixo, Bosch succeeded in fulfilling the needs of the growing number of female DIY fans and, according to Bosch, created the best-selling power tool in the world.
Games console manufacturers, notably Nintendo with the Wii, also use gender aspects in their product development. The overall concepts – from the design and intuitive operation to the range of games – speak volumes. After all, as many as about 45 per cent of all "computer gamblers" are female. And even though they are not necessarily "hardcore technology-minded", it is a rising trend.
Naturally, men and women also behave differently when they go shopping. Men are more likely to head straight for the desired product, while women prefer to receive comprehensive advice. Statistics show that women who go shopping alone spend about twice as long in the store compared to when they are accompanied by a man. They consider environment, friendly advice and service orientation to be more important. But unfortunately, when it comes to technical or financial products, there is still evidence that they are underestimated and not taken seriously – and so the quality of the advice is correspondingly poor. If women are satisfied with a store, product or brand, they are more likely to remain loyal and stay with it for longer than men.
If this theory is true, then sales employees would do well to think about this different purchasing behaviour immediately – but they must also be prepared for (numerous?) exceptions.
So it’s no exaggeration – our tastes and needs are actually determined by our gender. Which makes us wonder how this different perception and our different needs are expressed in the workplace, for example. Does the gender office exist?
Even without digging deeply into the bag of tricks of social role-playing, competition and competitive behaviour are still regarded as male characteristics, while social skills and a willingness to cooperate are more often attributed to women. And this is exactly where it gets interesting: the period of change currently experienced in the working world is clearly moving in the direction of teamwork, communication skills and networking. Precisely for this reason, the significance of meeting and communication zones – particularly those set aside for informal communication – has noticeably increased. Cubicle offices are being replaced by open areas. Does that mean that the office is becoming female?
Consider the fact that the interior design of many offices does not really display factual neutrality, but rather a frequently varied, colourful atmosphere. The office is no longer exclusively used for organising work, but adopts the function of an inspiring living space where emotional aspects are incorporated at a significantly higher level. Is this another indication of the "female" office?
Even though the male/female distinction is naturally insufficient and is based on persistent generalisation: it seems as if values, characteristics and perspectives attributed to the female role model have made impressive inroads into office life and have added essential areas and functionalities. It is yet to be seen where the journey will take us, whether the hypothesis comes true and gender behaviour patterns are thus relativised. After all, we don’t want to attach technical expertise to our male colleagues and the ability to multitask to our female colleagues for all time. That’s not what we want, or is it?