Desperately seeking Susan to design better software

Desperately seeking Susan to design better software

The future of software requires a stronger feminine touch.

Good news, in software companies, women are easier to find as employees nowadays.  The bad news is that women are not placed in the driver seat to influence software design, interaction and value delivered to their customers — which may be why some new business software feels like it’s 30 years old. For enterprise and infrastructure software to keep customers happy, they desperately need a woman’s touch in design to improve profitability..

In the US, women control the purse strings, estimating a total purchasing prowess of $5 to 15 Trillion annually. This goes beyond buying grocery and retail items – whereas major consumer facing technology companies and services like Sprint have acknowledged the lipstick economy. Sprint has revamped marketing, packaging, and contextual appeal, and then grew their business 13% YoY in EBITDA after their 2013 about face with appealing to women by skipping the tech market jargon. This lesson is one that the software industry needs to pay attention to, and the first step is to get more women into software product management roles.

Breaking into the wallet

Appealing to women is not answered by changing the price to be impulsively attractive and packaging to be pink.  It needs to understand that women think about products differently. Women think contextually, and make decisions upon our personal experiences and lessons learned, weighing community opinion, common knowledge, emotional reactions and trust in a very non-linear manner. Women are very much masters of unstructured data abstraction that is often explained as women’s intuition because most times seems illogical.

Breaking down the mental model for purchasing, women’s point of view, women heavily value product attributes that are greatly under-designed in software – especially within Enterprise (B2B software), Infrastructure/ Platform software and Software delivery services.

Women need to connect with the software, and often it’s through these techniques:

  • personal trust and transparency with product
  • product community and their personal contribution impact
  • an engaged and guided product usage experience
  • personal emotional recognition
  • usage time commitments and capabilities
  • personal results for using product (the reward)

Time for more Femmefluence in software design.

According to Nielson NeuroFocus, women’s complex decision making extends the sticking power after purchase, and more likely to share with others. Talk to any software CEO, and product sticking and sharing power is what they constantly seek to grow their revenue stream.

“Women remember more and differently than men do, so talk to both her emotional and rational sides and acknowledge her attention to detail. Layering emotional decision-making opportunities with rational information will increase purchase intent and will have strong “sticking” power. According to Nielsen NeuroFocus, the female brain is programmed to maintain social harmony, so messaging should be positive and not focus on negative comparisons or associations.”

My bet on the winning enterprise and office software will have a predominant feminine touch in design, engagement and reward. Want to start now? Answer these questions to identify your breakout path:

  • How can software acknowledge the user’s emotions? How can that emotional connection improve quality of work?
  • How can the software interactions evolve based on the different times of the day? Living in a multi-device world requires software to be smart about human capacity and expectations.
  • How can the software have a close and personal connection with the user? Designing the engagement to be a trusted experience, and providing more insight than asking the user to give is key.
  • How can the software tell the user exactly what they need to do to achieve their goal? I am personally biased with this point as I’m from the enterprise world, where reports are made for managers, and end users only get a dashboard of what’s next for them to do. I think every professional should know how their work contributes to the bigger picture, and the software can become their trusted source for keeping them on track.

Bringing in empathy, compassion, trustworthiness into software design can create high loyalty high dependability with every user, and differentiate your product at the emotional level as well as tapping into higher profit margins.

The dollar and cents about feminine software design

Not saying that men can’t think about emotions and identify a path of engagement that “clicks” with the user’s heart and the head – but that’s what these complex software categories are often missing. Consider how business driving software solutions could interact differently, and how that design could improve the software company’s business.

  • What is the abandonment rate from the download of the software to the distribution of the software to the end users? If your revenue derives from usage (read subscription model) this could be the financial justification to get more engaged.
  • What is the retention rate of new customers to returning customers once the contract terms expire? The cheapest way to grow your customer base is to keep your current customers. If the retention rate needs improvement – is it because the software didn’t deliver what was promised? Create a connection with the user? Get the user to be successful themselves?
  • What is the cost difference between attaining a new customer from a referral compared to your standard marketing lead acquisition spend & conversion ratio? And, how many leads do you get from customers compared to general marketing activities? If the company is spending too much on sales and marketing, perhaps investing into the product relationship with the customer is the appropriate next step.

Women in the software industry

Recently, DOL reports that there’s a female hiring trend in the tech sector – whereas there’s over 536,000 of us women employed full time. 60% of the new tech jobs created over the last year went to women, too.

So the big question, is: what are women doing within the software industry?

CNNMoney analyzed the hiring within the tech industry by job function – and the data pointed that women were often the business moms as 50% were in administration roles. The next job functions popular with women ranged from professionals, sales, and management all in the 20th percentile.

There are numerous articles placing attention on the lack of women within engineering roles and executive roles within Silicon Valley. insightful statistics collected by Tracy Chou, a software engineer at Pinterest researched 131 tech companies and found only 18% of software engineers are women. And the gender imbalance is even found with women VC’s making up around 10%, and who are twice as likely to leave their post then men.

Product design and Product Managers

Drilling deeper into the roles, I asked a technology industry executive recruiter to go through his database, and let me know what was the ratio of women to men within the product management role.  After tracking 120 product managers, his statistics brought attention to the problem – it’s a 1:6 ratio of women to men product managers (16.7%) which is less than what Tracy discovered within Software Engineers. I ran a similar unscientific analysis of product managers within my LinkedIn network and found 4 women out of my first 40 search results. Telling, isn’t it?

The “Seeking Susan” Challenge

If you are a leader within a software company, and the above dollars and cents makes “SENSE” to pursue a more feminine approach – start by looking at your product design team. If it’s not gender balanced, be creative on getting a woman’s perspective heard to accomplish your business goal. Likely, they’re ready to lean in, and can contribute a very profitable perspective.

I welcome your comments and insight to this topic.

~ Tara Spalding

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