London Free Press

October 9, 1999

Stereotypes aren't reliable

By Ross Daily -- For the London Free Press

This week, another tale from the training course still ongoing in Toronto.

Ideally, those who presume to offer financial advice to individuals and families will be completely free of both prejudice against their clients and the tendency to stereotype those clients.

The prejudice issue is actually addressed in the code of ethics followed by certified financial planners.

The stereotype issue, however, is another story. In any people-oriented business, it is essential to treat each customer as if he or she is the most important person you'll meet this year.

The reason is that stereotypes are not really reliable and acting on them can lose you the sale.

Your next scruffy-looking customer might be making a fashion statement and really have enough money to buy anything in the store. Unless, of course, the clerk is condescending or rude because the customer looks like a loser.

The senior citizen in the computer store might be a retired systems engineer and know more than any staff member in the place.

Before reading further, consider for a moment the presence of women in the business and consumer world. How much influence do women exercise?

As a television business specialist, I've been aware of this question for more than 20 years and actively looked for answers.

But, in spite of my efforts, I had no idea of the real situation. When I say real, I mean that the following statistics were presented to us by a reputable consulting firm which had gathered individual numbers from a wide variety of reliable sources.

I was amazed and I think you will be, too.

Women control 80 per cent of the consumer dollars spent in North America.

The female dominance will continue in our society. Women stand to receive 85 per cent of the wealth currently controlled by males. Men have shorter lifespans than women and usually pass their wealth along to their spouses when they die.

Women buy 50 per cent of all of the sporting equipment, personal computers and cars sold in Canada. Their automotive clout is even greater, because women actually influence 80 per cent of the purchasing decisions.

Part of me just cannot believe the statistic about the computers, even though my sister is a computer specialist at the Bank of Canada.

Obviously, I have some rethinking to do in this one.

In investing, women purchase 53 per cent of the stocks sold in North America, 53 per cent say they have a registered retirement savings plan and 38 per cent buy mutual funds (it's 44 per cent for men).

Single women buy more homes than any other identifiable single group and women in general pay for 40 per cent of all home improvements.

In business, my guess is that you simply won't believe the statistics, but here they are:

- Canada has the largest percentage of women entrepreneurs in the industrialized world.

- Among younger people, it's women who are starting 80 per cent of the new businesses in Canada.

- Women-owned businesses employ more people than the Canadian Business Magazine top 100 companies COMBINED.

- High-level business is always connected with travel, so this next point is a natural result of the previous three. In 1970, women accounted for one per cent of airport business travel. Now, it's 40 per cent.

Little woman? Better half? Ball and chain? Not a chance.

More like equal partner, driving force, power that should have been recognized a long time ago.

Seeing the statistics is a good first step, but change can only come when an entire society sets aside its stereotypes.

The training presentation did wonders for us. I hope this helps you.

Ross Daily is a former business and agriculture editor at CFPL-TV. You can reach him by mail at The London Free Press, P. O. Box 2280, London, N6A 4G1, or by fax at 667-4528. His column appears Saturdays.

Copyright © 1999, Quebecor New Media Limited Partnership.