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Like many of you, I started my career working in retail. Retail positions were easy to come by as a young single person and the discounts on goods or groceries were a fantastic perk. But I never really thought about where the money I spent in retail went, and the only statement I wanted to make with the brands I wore was that it was me Cool.
Fast forward a few years, and like many of my peers, I’ve 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 requires our attention. That’s why we’re doing what we can to help: bring our own bags when you shop to avoid single-use plastic, recycle at home and in public, and reuse items instead of buying new ones whenever this is possible. We do all this in the name of protecting our environment.
Now most of the US population can agree that reduce, reuse and recycle are good ideas; The less packaging that goes to landfill, the better. Also, the number of people willing to change their personal habits to participate in this shared value and fight climate change is growing. In fact, this has even become a new brand of its own Cool.
Related: Why purpose-driven marketplaces are the antidote to Amazon
Convenience and dollars saved outweigh social conscience
But by and large, we’re still trapped in the cycle of convenience. We don’t want to do without personal comfort and the tempting bargain price when purchasing goods and services. How many of us think about who is selling us products before we buy them? Do we consider whether the company that makes or sells these items aligns with our values?
Let’s take the most obvious example. Would you stop shopping on Amazon.com if the company’s practices didn’t align with your values? Given Amazon’s immense market share, the majority of Americans seem to answer with a resounding “NO”.
We like to think of ourselves as socially conscious – that we support the things we care about, even if it takes a little more effort. But in my experience, that’s just not true. The vast majority of Americans are willing to look the other way when it comes to issues that affect their value if it saves them just a few dollars or shipping days.
Also see: How a Set of Strong Corporate Values Drives Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop
A story of short-lived promises
In 2017, the #Metoo movement put sexual harassment in the spotlight and highlighted the immense workplace injustices women face. But it didn’t lead to a lasting change. #Metoo prompted companies across almost every industry to commit to do better and be different. Policies have been put in place to address systemic workplace culture issues and diversity and inclusion task forces have been formed. For a brief moment, some of the most offended businesses felt the economic impact of consumers demanding change. The country spoke up for its values and used its economic power to drive change. But this change in consumer behavior was very short-lived.
That statistics around culture and internal policies tell the real story: Although 58% of US companies have reported having established diversity, equity and inclusion task forces or councils, only 7% have created measurable goals around DEI. Without clearly defined and articulated goals (with accountability measures to protect them), a task force or council is more like performance art than real change. Despite all the outrage and support the #Metoo movement has garnered, the sad truth hasn’t changed much. For example a current one McKinsey study shows that the presence of women in managerial positions has hardly changed (1%) over the past six years.
And consumers have all but forgotten their outrage. One of the clearest examples we see is Big Tech. Facebook, Google, Twitter and Amazon are all male-led, with the majority of senior positions held by men. And most were called up as part of the #Metoo movement. But what consequences do they face? How were they held accountable? Most still have their jobs while we continue to eagerly use and benefit from their tools and cement their belief that they are untouchable.
Also see: How the #MeToo movement is affecting men in the workplace
Women have enormous economic power
Many women are committed to closing the gender gap, fighting for equal pay and creating workplaces free from sexual harassment. However, most would not stop using Facebook or Twitter, or give up their Amazon Prime membership to pressure these companies to change their practices. Women have tremendous 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 companies, but we also have power. In fact, if we start buying into our assets, we have an even greater collective power to significantly affect their bottom line.
Imagine if there were labels on goods and services that noted a company’s position on key gender equality issues that you could review before making a purchasing decision. Would that affect your decision? Or would convenience and the lowest price still rule your wallet? How do you live by valuing equal pay for men and women, or representing more women in politics, or giving women equal access to health care, or ensuring that women have secure jobs? Are your assets worth a few dollars more, or are you waiting a few more days for the purchases to get to you?
Those of us with the privilege of budget leeway have a responsibility to change the playing field for other women who legitimately cannot afford to shop for their assets. We can push companies to make changes because they react when their bottom line is at risk.
What can you personally do? Stop looking the other way in the name of convenience – join me in harnessing the immense purchasing power we as women have to demand change and influence our culture for the better.