Elysha Young
Elysha manages the Asia Pacific Mintel Trends team made up of expert analysts and trend spotters. She currently oversees content for Mintel Trends as well as client servicing for the region.

In celebration of International Women’s Day (8 March), the Mintel Trends team of consumer experts have explored the roles that women play in society, the workforce, and the home, and predicted how that will evolve over the next decade within the context of the Mintel Trend Drivers.

Here, in the first of a three-part series, we explore the role of women in Asia-Pacific through the lens of technology and discuss how innovation will continue to create opportunities and help break down barriers.

When we talk about life-changing technology, the first thing that springs to mind is probably a computer, a robot, social media, or maybe a FitBit. The internet, surely. What might not immediately occur to you is a washing machine. Or the contraceptive pill. Or indeed, a tampon. And yet each of these innovations has changed the lives of women in all sorts of immeasurable ways by providing them with freedom. Freedom from the burden of hours of back-breaking, unpaid labour; freedom to make choices about their own bodies; and freedom to live every day of the month without restriction.

With each of these new freedoms, women’s identities changed as they found themselves with more access to the world. Each new innovation has helped peel back the cultural and societal restrictions placed on women, and bit by bit embolden them to demand further equality.

The restrictions women face today are less obvious but they still exist to different degrees across APAC and, indeed, globally. Throughout the next decade, advancements in technology will allow women to participate even more fully in the world, on more equal terms.

Communication

The biggest change technology has brought in the last decade is that of connectivity – our new ability to communicate with anyone around the world, any time. Across APAC, technology is providing access to information at an unprecedented rate, which is allowing for exposure to different values. Millennial and Gen Z women are part of a global community as well as a local one, and this impacts the rates of progress in regards to rights, both legally and socially.

Women’s expectations about their rights – that they should have access to education, leadership roles, health care, political freedom, and equal pay – will shift very quickly in some parts of APAC where women’s roles are still quite traditional, as they catch up to countries where women are considered more equal. Smartphone penetration is high across the region, and this will speed up the rate of change dramatically.

Workplace

The traditional 9-5 job was made with men in mind, assuming that women would be at home to care for the children and home. While women have entered the workforce with professional aspirations to rival that of men, the burden of care has remained with women, leaving them with the responsibility of two full-time jobs.

The internet has afforded many of us the ability to work from home, the office, or anywhere we please. As workplaces become more flexible, this will provide women with more opportunity to enter the workforce on their own terms, while also giving men space to be able to pick up their share of home and family duties.

We will move away from the mantra of women being able to ‘have it all’ – one which places a huge amount of pressure on women to effectively juggle two full-time jobs and, therefore, two full-time identities – and towards a greater realisation that, in fact, no one can have it all, and certainly not all at once.

Into the next decade, rather than requiring women to ‘lean in’ in order to be taken seriously both in the workforce and broader society, we may instead see the beginnings of both sexes ‘leaning out’ of patriarchal expectations of familial, social, and workplace structure. With men being offered more substantial parental leave packages, and – crucially – the corporate and social structure that allows them to actually take advantage of these schemes; thus, allowing men to take up a greater share of the load when it comes to parental care.

Relationships

With greater access to gainful employment, women are provided more agency across the board by virtue of being able to support themselves financially. Women are defining themselves less in relation to the men in their lives and more as individuals worthy of respect in their own right. This, in turn, is making the idea of marriage less of a necessity, both legally and socially, which is affecting the way women are approaching relationships.

In China, women are pushing back on once-rigid expectations around relationships and marriage. Women are choosing who they want to marry, who they no longer want to be married to, and indeed whether they will get married at all. According to Mintel research on Chinese consumers, only 18% of women consider getting married to be a criterion of personal success.

Clothes

Innovations that are being made in the seemingly smallest ways can have an enormous impact on how women feel about their work. In Australia, clothing brand SUK is providing an alternative to the standard-issue workwear that doesn’t take bust or hips (ie women’s body shapes) into account for women doing hard physical labour. Clothes that are meant to be unisex are often made assuming a man as the default user and, therefore, based on the male shape.

Meanwhile, in Japan, expectations around what a woman should look like and how they should behave are being questioned and rejected. For instance, a recent Twitter movement started around the hashtag #KuToo, a play on #MeToo, pushing back on the rule that women must wear heels to work.

As these rigid, often explicit, social rules are starting to be pushed back on, moving forward, women will start to find their voices on a range of issues – from government representation to equal pay to the expectation that women become housewives after they marry and quit their jobs once they become pregnant. As an extremely traditional society, Japanese women will face a slow shift in culture; however, these small wins will help to galvanise a fledgling feminist movement and encourage women to demand more substantial change.

Women are pushing to be seen in all their realness – flat shoes included. Those working manual jobs want to be seen, encouraged, and appreciated for the job that they are doing, while those in more ‘aesthetic’ roles must still be valued beyond how they look. Where certain jobs or conversation topics were traditionally considered ‘unladylike’, now women are scripting their own version of what a lady can and should look like, do, and say. Empowering women, through clothing and otherwise, to feel confident, capable, and included at work is just one of the steps towards achieving a more equitable workplace.

Health and safety

If you were asked to picture someone having a heart attack, it’s likely you would conjure up an image of someone grabbing their chest, perhaps with shooting pains down their left arm. You’d be right – if the person you were picturing was a man. Recent studies have shown that this supposedly common symptom is actually only present in one in eight women who have heart attacks. More likely symptoms, especially in younger women, are nausea and stomach pain, but to present with these would see a patient classified as ‘asymptomatic’ because the ‘normal’ presenting symptoms are actually only normal in males. Likewise, when getting into a car one would assume that a seat belt has been tested on a range of body types – men, women, children – when, in fact, in almost all instances of crash test safety globally, the dummies are the size, weight, and proportions of the average male body. Indeed, up until 2003 male test dummies were used exclusively; today, female test dummies are used occasionally – predominantly in the passenger seat.

These are just two of countless examples where the health and safety of women have been considered only in its relation to men. Women must navigate a world in which products, services, and studies, are created with females as an afterthought, the unwieldiness of their bodies considered an extraneous variable. As more women become part of senior leadership teams, this diversity of perspective will highlight new opportunities for innovation around products and services that properly cater to women and their needs. With all the consumer data companies now have at their disposal, disaggregating it by sex is a good place to start to identify unmet needs. After that, actually asking women about their experience will help shed some light on how a product might best serve them.

Dissolve the labels

The last decade saw the mainstreaming of new gender and non-gender pronouns and the creation of new labels with which to identify each other. We’re already seeing consumers begin to move away from traditional gender stereotypes and toward expressions that embrace gender neutrality, as detailed in Mintel Trend ‘The Next Genderation’. The next decade will see a shift away from needing labels at all, as consumers begin to embrace a wider spectrum of humanity as ‘normal’.

The dismantling of the patriarchy stands to benefit everyone; while women will be afforded greater freedom to explore their potential in the workplace and beyond, likewise men will be afforded the freedom to break away from social expectations around how a ‘man’ looks and behaves, and the weight of responsibility that follows. The freedom to have and cultivate an identity or persona that isn’t first and foremost led by gender is incredibly exciting for everyone, not just those who identify as female.

To read the full ‘The role of women in 2030’ series, click here for our spotlight on women in the Americas and here for analysis on women in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.