Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, speaks during a plenary session at the 42nd annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 12 this year. She is an example of women at last taking their rightful place as company leaders. Picture: AP

As women’s roles shift, so does their influence in the marketplace and the workplace. They are moving rapidly from gatekeepers to decision-makers and becoming extremely influential.

One only has to look at Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg or Absa’s Maria Ramos to understand just how powerful these global brand ambassadors can be for a business.

Global statistics show that women are increasingly becoming the key earners and graduating in higher numbers than men. This is the rise of what is termed the Sheeconomy.

In America, studies show that women out-earn men in one out of every three partnerships. Nearly half the workforce is female: women hold 49.9 percent of all non-farm labour jobs and 51.5 percent of high-paying management and professional positions.

It is also significant that for every two men who graduate from college or get a higher degree, three women do.

And as the US and many other economies continue their migration from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge-based one, women are poised to snag more jobs.

Evidence of this shift is visible around the world. A recent Booz & Co report called women “the Third Billion”, meaning that globally they are the next emerging economy. Much of this is a result of women’s growing economic power in developing countries like Africa.

Influence author Maddy Dychtwald describes this as the brink of a massive power shift, a grinding of the gears of history into a new human condition – a world where women can, if they choose to, seize the reins of economic control.

This means that locally we too need to look at how we can attract and retain quality women and how we can adapt our marketing and sales approaches to better appeal to this growing influential sector.

From a product perspective we need to look at what women want and acknowledge that they have a more comprehensive decision-making process than men.

They look at all the details whereas men are more targeted shoppers.

This has clear implications for marketing and social network discussions.

Women are increasingly making the calls where men have traditionally held sway.

One of the big mistakes companies make is assuming women are all “warm and fuzzy”. To appeal to women, the changes in a product or service or even the way a company is run have to be more profound.

And it definitely seems the effort may be worthwhile, particularly if one works on the premise that if you win a man over, chances are you have just made a sale, whereas if you can win a woman over, you will have a long-term customer.

Similarly in the workplace we need to adapt environments to suit these up-and-coming powerful women. We need to attract them with favourable environments, flexi working hours and succession plans that suit their education and experience.

It’s important to understand that women are social beings. This means that social networking is key. Social discussion is the new currency of commerce.

Women share their points of view in their purchasing decisions and will share experiences too.

These online social networks have given women the kind of muscle that can be a blessing or a bloodbath for those it’s flexed upon. Of the more than 500 million people on Facebook, women do 62 percent of the sharing.

It makes sense that, given their disposition to tend and befriend, women would take to online social networks, but until it happened, nobody was quite aware of the implications.

We are seeing a clear shift to relationship marketing and relationship nurturing as we prepare for a world that is adapted to women decision-makers and influencers.

Given this power shift, there are indeed few industries globally that aren’t trying to lure the female currency, even the traditionally male-dominated industries such as IT, cars and financial services. One only has to look around. Harley-Davidson has a Women Riders section on its website. This year, Cuban cigar manufacturer Habanos launched the Julieta, a smaller, milder cigar aimed specifically at women.

So while dollars can’t always buy power, they can often buy change. Women’s education and earning power have changed the relationship they have with their family finances as well as their families.

Unfortunately, women still lag behind in the boardroom stakes with just 3 percent of Fortune 500 companies headed by them.

l Natalie Maroun is Chief Strategist for LRMG Performance Agency