Why Sharing Is a Female Thing
Posted on November 23, 2015 by Marian Salzman
[Originally posted on Forbes.com.]
Social scientists have long been proving that at least a couple of stereotypes about women are true—positive stereotypes, that is. Leading thinkers, from Deborah Tannen to John Gray, have convincingly argued that we communicate and collaborate differently.
And although sometimes we take it too far, or are expected to take it too far—as seen in The Washington Post’s recent funny-sad op-ed about how famous quotes would need to be worded if said by a woman during a business meeting—on balance, it’s a very good thing that the double-X-chromosome set generally knows how to get along and get things done.
What’s interesting is that in a time when so much of the tech world is still dominated by men, it’s really women who are driving the new digitally empowered sharing economy—both as consumers and as creators (if anyone can still tell where one ends and the other begins anymore). This is our time.
It’s probably not a surprise that women dominate the clothes-borrowing site Rent the Runway—5 million–plus users mostly under 35 and a female CEO and co-founder, Jennifer Hyman—and handcraft marketplace Etsy, where most of the entrepreneurs (some 86 percent) who sell their wares are women, with an average age of 39.
But more unexpected is that two women founded the short-term-car-rental company Zipcar. They met at their children’s kindergarten, no less. And they were massively successful: They sold the company to Avis for $491 million about three years ago.
On a smaller entrepreneurial scale, more women are kicking butt in the sharing economy. A study last year found that women outperform men on crowdfunding sites. Roughly two-thirds of female-led tech startups reached their Kickstarter funding goals, while less than one-third of male-led startups did. Indiegogo research from a few years ago found that women ran nearly half of all its successful campaigns and that women were five times more successful on Indiegogo than through traditional venture channels.
Women are even holding their own in one of the least likely, most visible corners of the sharing economy: the travel space. Traditional wisdom holds that women, highly concerned for their safety while traveling, would stick to staying in public, well-protected hotels. For a few years, the trend had hotels going as far as creating special women-only floors, with extra security and “women-friendly” features like extra mirrors. (I’m going to leave the politics of that alone.)
But the reality is far different. Airbnb has been aggressive in publicizing its efforts this year to keep women travelers safe, starting with sending its Trust and Safety team to conduct Women’s Safety Workshops in cities across the U.S. and Europe. Already, more than 50 percent of the Airbnb community’s hosts and guests are women. That flies in the face of the notion that women are or should be afraid to stay in the home of a stranger, or to open their own homes to others. Even Couchsurfing, which seems like it comes with a still higher risk, reported a few years ago that nearly half of its 4.5 million users were women. (Of course, anyone who ventures into the travel sharing economy should take common-sense security precautions.)
That last factoid was one of several presented in an article on Shareable about whether the sharing economy is safe for women. Leaving aside that question for a moment, the article made a compelling argument about why we’re so good at sharing. “I believe women are willing to take a little bit of risk to get into [the sharing economy], because the whole idea of sharing is very natural to them,” said sustainability strategist Andrea Learned, co-author of Don’t Think Pink, citing research on how women are conditioned to seek connection and commonality. “Women will cut a business slack to a certain degree, but within a short period of time, they’ve got to see that response and that transparency.”
Maybe back then, the sharing economy hadn’t reached its full female-friendly potential. (Shareable didn’t think it had.) But now the sharing world has evolved to a place where it’s easy for women to find our natural home in it.