March 8, 2018 / Insight

The Future is Female

To celebrate International Women’s Day and as part of our continued interest in ethical businesses, we’ve been exploring brands that support women, and promote equality.

We caught up with Charlotte Bax, founder of Mars Needs Women, an apparel store that supports women in STEM, to discuss the future of gender equality, and what this means for brands and retailers.

Mars Needs Women was created last autumn as a pricing experiment, inspired by the book, ‘Predictably Irrational’, and its exploration of consumer behaviour and motivations when faced with social good.

Exploring the theme of brands looking to create social change, we asked Charlotte how brands could use their power to shape a better future for consumers. She replied, “All of the recent buzzwords surrounding retail – experiences, personalization, authenticity – are related to the definitive change in how consumers interpret “value“. Bringing value to the customer is now so much more than just discount pricing and convenience and that’s why it’s the perfect moment for “do-good brands” to shape a positive value system. With my pricing model I’m toying with the idea that non-profit and for-profit do not need to be mutually exclusive, and in fact the combination of the two hits on a nerve with consumers right at the centre of this new value system.”

A key goal of the Mars Needs Women project is to make science cool again.

It aims to create positive associations with STEM for children of either gender, and “flipping the stereotype of “nerd” on it’s head to reward intellect and original thinking”.

The brand hopes to achieve this by “changing the notion of “celebrity” to include the incredibly smart women in STEM who are too often overshadowed or excluded, and re-frame this image on social media by highlighting different women in STEM – so young girls know it’s cool to be a badass scientist, engineer, and leader”.

Through her work with Mars Needs Women, Charlotte’s focus is “shining the spotlight on female leaders in business and the STEM fields, so the next generation has a model to aspire to.”

The lack of diverse role models is a cross-industry problem, and an issue not just confined to gender, but also for race, age, ability and size. The importance of minority role models cannot be overstated, for their ability to make aspirations seem achievable and accessible, especially within industries like STEM, which have long seemed closed to the majority of women. Equally important has been the celebration of African actors in the recent Black Panther film, strong female characters in the Wonder Woman and Star Wars franchises, and plus-sized models on catwalks in the fashion industry.

Within all of these industries, Charlotte believes, “We get there with the groundswell of millions of small steps coming together to start changing the mindset and literal lexicon of women in public roles.”

We are at the forefront of a fourth revolution, and the future of work is changing: by 2025 an estimated 75% of the world will be freelancing, and work, as we know it, will be a thing of the past.

It is in this uncertain environment, according to Charlotte Bax, that women will truly succeed:

“Throughout history during periods of instability – such as the Great Recession – women recovered faster than men because of their higher EQ and therefore adaptability to move into new roles. In the very near future AI will create another massive shakeup, especially in male dominated fields like transportation and manufacturing, so promoting “feminine” traits will make workers more successful in the face of uncertainty. If women can harness this advantage then they can absolutely play an even more impactful role in STEM. Successful brands will adopt the same mindset by staying incredibly tuned into the changing priorities and emotions of their customers.”

As technology changes the way we work, current attitudes are changing the face of retail. Led by the beauty industry, branding and packaging are beginning to reflect a change in priorities away from gender, and towards functionality, inclusivity and ethical practices. Skincare brands are embracing the term ‘unisex’, and packaging trends are moving away from hyperfeminine florals and exaggeratedly rugged masculinity to clean neutrals, and messaging that focuses on individual performance and problem-solving.

While working alongside Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, we were excited to collaborate with a brand that aims to do just that: while pink did feature within the store design, and it was important that Rihanna’s personality was felt within the retail space, the main message is of inclusivity and empowerment, reflecting her brand’s ethos of challenging industry standards with diverse and inclusive colour cosmetics. For that reason, the feminine design elements are balanced by untreated concrete, graffiti and clean lines, to give a look that is ambiguously raw and refined, thereby emphasising its accessibility to all.

So what does a female future look like?

To Charlotte Bax, it means not having to preface a woman’s role with her gender, as imbalances in all industries are equalised. “It’s incredibly exciting to see social movements across entertainment, sports, and politics gaining momentum to promote equality of female leads.”

Her views are echoed by Danish architect, Dorte Mandrup, who argues that conversations around gender tend to centre on women, with men seen as neutral. Like Bax, Mandrup sees a sign of equality as the ability to have her career described without her gender as a qualifier, as something to be succeeded ‘in spite of’.