European Women are Ready for Progress, but They Still Feel the Strain of Gender Inequality

European Women are Ready for Progress, but They Still Feel the Strain of Gender Inequality

Across the region, for every ad featuring strong women and girls, there’s the inexplicable product that was marketed specifically to women—but didn’t have to be. From household cleaners to snacks to breakfast cereals, some brands are still creating unnecessarily gendered versions of products where often the only unique feature is pink or glammed up packaging. 

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for brands to market to women. In fact, some new brands are stealing the spotlight with solutions to women’s real life challenges. Female consumers are finding value in period-proof underwear; tampons and pads that help to end period poverty; or make up brands that source and support local women village enterprises.

For brands to succeed today, they need to find ways to address the problems women face. The reality is that women still shoulder most of the household responsibilities. On average, 91% of European women say they have shared or primary responsibility for daily shopping, household chores and food prep. As a result, they’re also the primary purchaser for everyday household items. But taking on this second, sometimes third job means that women have additional demands each week and less time to meet them. This makes women one of the largest opportunities for convenience-led technologies and services.

But convenience isn’t the only opportunity to make a significant difference in the lives of women.  Financial pressures are compounding women’s daily challenges. One in three (34%) women across Europe believe that they are financially worse off than they were five years ago. There are similar levels in Latin America (33%) and Africa and Middle East (31%), but substantially lower levels in Asia Pacific (14%).

European women are feeling financial pressures, as more than half (52%) say they only have enough money for food, shelter and basics, compared with 43% of men.

In an environment of low economic growth, European women are having a tougher time than men. In the European Union, women aged 20-34 years are nearly 9% more likely to be neither employed or receiving an education (20.9%) than young men of the same age (12.2%), according to Eurostat. Although Western Europe ranks No. 1 in the World Economic Forum Global Gender report, the report estimates that gender equality won’t be a reality for 61 years in Western Europe and 124 years in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Iceland and the Nordic countries are ranked as the best places to be a woman, but there are still significant steps required across many markets to come close to achieving parity. The EU parliament is actively driving change in women’s empowerment, highlighted by a number of new initiatives, such as the Work Life Balance, which strengthens parental leave and makes it non-transferrable (meaning men have to take it). 

Oftentimes, creating and passing legislation isn’t the challenge. It’s the resistance to change and stigmatization due to cultural nuances. We see an array of challenges outside of EU member companies: a lack of hiring or promotion diversity, laws preventing women from working, short or non-existent maternity and paternity leave, and caregiving responsibilities that limit how much women can work, and slower career growth.

So how do we push for progress? Companies can become champions for women by addressing inequalities in pay and leadership and by establishing flexible hours and options to work from home. 

Outside of the workplace, women are looking for ways to get back what she values the most—time, which often means reducing time spent completing weekday chores. Brands can help by enriching and simplifying her daily life, supporting women in underprivileged communities, understanding their needs and meeting them through products and services, with communications that reflect her life rather than endorse historical stereotypes.

Across Europe, 60% of women say that a convenient store location is a highly influential factor when deciding where to shop, compared with 52% of men. Women are looking for ways to maximize efficiency, as they prefer stores that are easy to get in and out of. They also like organized layouts and time-saving services.

European women are more likely to want online shopping to be risk-free and convenient. For example, free delivery for online shopping from Tuesday through Thursday particularly appeals to 45% of Euroepean women, compared with 35% of men, making it the region with the largest gender gap for this type of service. European women are also significantly more likely than men to be interested in receiving notifications when an item ordered is out-of-stock and when products come with money back guarantees.

Despite financial, work and time pressures, women are laser-focused on living healthier, better lives. They aren’t willing to compromise on their health, which is a top priority for women in Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific.

Health is a Top Concern

Among the regions, Europe has the largest gender divide when it comes to planned dietary changes. Seventy-nine percent of women say they want to change their diet, compared with  71% of men. In the battle of the brands, those that highlight health will win with women.  

How do women interpret what’s healthy? European women are more likely to scrutinize the items on the shelf than men. They’re looking for transparent labels, companies that are open about where their products come from and how they’re produced. Brands can win hearts by prioritizing quality ingredients. In Europe, 56% of women believe that the quality of ingredients and materials determine whether a product is premium, compared with 52% of men.

So what does this all mean for manufacturers and retailers? 

It means that shifting gender norms are swiftly moving from minority to mainstream, especially in markets dominated by working-age Millennial consumers. Yet, gender bias remains commonplace in modern-day advertising, and both men and women are noticing. Stereotypes that might have been acceptable a few years ago now elicit a cringe, further burdening women and discouraging men from purchasing or using a product. While cultural norms vary globally, it’s critical that brands also communicate the important role men play in women’s empowerment and equality journey—from encouraging and defending inclusivity in the workplace to sharing the load at the home.

Brands that are getting it right, whether through social responsibility, sustainability, health or convenience, will continue to win wallets. Patronage is contingent on a true understanding of a woman’s needs and reflects her reality on screen, on the shelf and in the store. 

It also means that companies that want to succeed won’t only donate to women’s causes. They will actively hire women, ensure women are paid equally and offer maternity and paternity leave. It’s not just good for business, it’s the only choice. Companies that step away from media headlines and roll up their sleeves to make sure their policies help women both as employees and as people living in the community will be contributing and growing a powerful group that holds considerable sway over household spending.

In short, brands and retailers that focus more on how they can lessen the load off women’s shoulders and less on the color of their packaging will earn more dollars.


The insights in this article were derived from the following sources:

  • The Conference Board® Global Consumer Confidence Survey is conducted in collaboration with Nielsen Q1 2019.
  • The Nielsen Q1 2019 Loyalty Survey
  • Nielsen Global Premiumization Survey Q2 2018
  • Nielsen Global Commerce Study Q2 2018
  • Nielsen Global Ingredient and Dining-Out Trends Report Aug 2016  
  • Nielsen Global Health and Wellness Q3 2016