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Like many of you, I had a job in retail at the start of my working life. Retail positions were easy to get as a young, single person, and the discounts on merchandise or food were a fantastic perk. But I never really thought about where the money I spent in retail went, and the only statement I was trying to make with the brands I wore was that I was cool.
Fast forward just a few years, and like many of my peers, I have developed a social conscience. Today, there is a lot of talk among my friends in both professional circles and on social media about being aware of how the everyday choices we all make impact the global issues we face. For example, we know that climate change needs our attention. So we do what we can to help: bringing our own bags when we shop to avoid one-time-use plastic, recycling both at home and out in public and reusing items rather than purchasing new ones whenever possible. We do all this in the name of protecting our environment.
Now, most of the U.S. population can agree that reducing, reusing and recycling are good ideas; the less packaging going into landfills, the better. Plus, the number of people willing to change their personal habits to participate in this shared value and combat climate change is growing. In fact, doing so has even become its own new brand of cool.
Convenience and saved dollars outweigh social conscience
But, by and large, we’re still trapped in the cycle of convenience. We’re completely unwilling to give up personal convenience and that tempting bargain price when it comes to shopping for goods and services. How many of us think about who is selling us products before we buy them? Are we considering if the company that is making or selling those items is aligned with our values?
Let’s take the most obvious example. Would you give up shopping on Amazon.com if the company practices didn’t align with your values? Given the immense market share controlled by Amazon, it appears that the majority of Americans would answer with a resounding “NO.”
We like to think of ourselves as socially aware — that we support the things we care about, even if it takes a bit more effort. But in my experience, this is simply just not true. The vast majority of Americans are willing to look the other way on issues impacting their values if doing so saves them just a few dollars or shipping days.
A history of short-lived promises
In 2017, the #Metoo movement put the spotlight on sexual harassment and highlighted the immense workplace inequities women face. But it has not resulted in sustained change. #Metoo prompted companies in almost every industry to pledge that they would do better and be different. Policies were put in place to address systemic workplace-culture issues, and diversity and inclusion task forces were formed. For a brief moment in time, some of the worst offending companies felt the economic impact of consumers demanding change. The country was speaking up for its values and putting its economic muscle to work to drive change. But this change in consumer behavior was very short lived.
The statistics around corporate culture and internal policies tell the real story: Although 58% of U.S. corporations have reported creating diversity, equity and inclusion taskforces or councils, only 7% have created measurable goals around DEI. Without clearly identified and articulated goals (with accountability measures put in place to protect them), a taskforce or council is more like performance art than real change. For all the outrage and support the #Metoo movement garnered, the sad truth is not much has changed. For example, a recent McKinsey study shows that there has been little (1%) change in the presence of women in leadership over the past six years.
And consumers have all but forgotten their outrage. One of the clearest examples we see is with big tech. Facebook, Google, Twitter and Amazon are all led by men, with the majority of executive positions occupied by men. And most have been called out as a part of the #Metoo movement. But what consequences have they faced? How have they been held accountable? Most still have their jobs while we go on eagerly using and benefiting from their tools, solidifying their belief that they’re untouchable.
Women have massive economic power
Many women support closing the gender gap, fighting for equal wages and creating workplaces free from sexual harassment. Yet most wouldn’t stop using Facebook or Twitter or ditch their Amazon Prime membership to pressure these businesses to change their practices. Women have massive economic power to lead and demand change in our culture, so why are we so willing to give up our power and hand over our hard-earned dollars to these companies? Yes, these are powerful businesses, but we also have power. In fact, we have an even larger collective power to make a significant dent in their bottom line if we start shopping our values.
Imagine if there were labels on goods and services noting a company’s position on core gender-equity issues, which you could review before you made a purchasing decision. Would that sway your decision? Or would convenience and getting the lowest price still rule your wallet? How do you live out valuing equal wages for men and women, or having more women represent you in politics, or giving women equal access to healthcare, or ensuring that women have safe workplaces? Are your values worth a few extra dollars or waiting a few more days for purchases to arrive at your front door?
Those of us with the privilege of budget wiggle room have a responsibility to change the playing field for other women who legitimately can’t afford to shop their values. We can push companies to make changes because they respond when their bottom line gets threatened.
What can you do personally? Stop looking the other way in the name of convenience — join me in using the immense purchasing power we have as women to demand change and impact our culture for the better.