Leading with Hair

When I first included Middle Eastern groups as a growing and diverse multicultural market within the United States, surprised everyone. I had to start with the statistics of the world population that is of the Islāmic faith and how America is experiencing the same growth patterns.

Back then, market development strategies would have never segmented this group. Much less would have new product strategy focused on the special needs of Middle Eastern consumers. A disruptive class on financial shariah* law and how to do business within the Islāmic world got cancelled due to low enrollment. Now, it is happening. According to the Wall Street Journal on May 20, top consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies launched personal care products specifically targeted for Middle Eastern tastes, such as hair products that address lack of ventilation under a scarf.

In the global scene, although slowly, companies are starting to realize that an American brand name is no longer enough to sell to diverse consumers. Sophisticated and empowered consumers want what is important to them, in their terms. Cultural influences, overt or not, shape preferences. Brands market share growth both in the U.S. and abroad is highly dependent on how well brands tap into diversity of tastes, styles, perceptions and behaviors that shape consumer-decision making.

This lesson is not new. African-American women have long wanted hair and skin products that fit her needs. Small entrepreneurs started to fill the void before major CPG companies started to even consider this as a market, in spite of this segment $1B buying power.


Originally woven by Peruvian villagers

Under-the-radar groups are big cultural influencers to the mainstream too. In fashions I remember when my friend and textile preservationist in Peru, Nilda Callañaupa from Centro de Textiles de Cuzco, brought the first embroidered ovary-tip, long-side-tie hat I have seen. (Gifted to our host at the Field Museum of Science and Industry where we were delivering talks about authentic Peruvian art forms and links to anthropological research). Soon enough some entrepreneur must have found the hat style, commercialized it and, after, the hat became fashionable to today.

Last week, at a business communications class after a participant spoke, most audience questions were about the outfit, a beautiful blue, white and black Sari** she purchased at one of the colorful Indian stores on Devon Avenue in Chicago. We all admired her chic look with a slight Indian flair within a quasi-American look. At a graduation party, the mother wore a similar outfit she bought at a boutique in California when travelling on vacations. She had not a clue that her outfit was a take on a sari.

Multiculturalism is about understanding cultural influences, differences and similarities. In business, these influences go beyond the way consumers speak, receive and process information to the very way consumers eat, dress, entertain and live their lives.

Multicultural influences come from multiple angles. From the targeted segment or subgroup, deeper understanding and connections feeds new products ideas and one hand and on the other hand, harnesses long-term relationships. From the mainstream, influences are bidirectional which opens doors for new creations or iterations of products and services as well. Furthermore, understanding trendy, young, multi-cultural individuals helps predict future trends and cultural shifts.

Why hair? It is personal. Is your product and relationship with diverse consumers personal?


*Muslims have a huge advantage in being able to turn to their religious teaching for guidance in their business dealings. Belief in God provides not merely the motivation, but the imperative for adhering to shariah law, which is to be applied in all spheres of life. For Muslims moral conduct in their daily lives is part of their devotion. Revealed teaching provides moral certainty, and a set of standards to which the entire community of believers can adhere.” Islāmic Banking http://www.islamic-banking.com/islamic-business-ethics.aspx

**”long, wrapping garment worn by Hindu women,” 1785, from Hindi sari, from Prakrit sadi, from Skt. sati “garment, petticoat.” Dictionary.com

Has Hip-Hop Diminished Black Cool?


Rethinking Hip-Hop and de facto Black culture. @Latinotimes @NSMBAA

Originally posted on Hide it in A Book:


A few weeks ago, I sat on a panel for the 32nd Intercultural Communication Conference at Texas Southern University.The subject for this year’s conference was the effects of Black music on Black life. I argued that contemporary Black music inaccurately reflects the Black experience in America. A large majority of modern Black music (read: Hip-Hop & B) features the same theme of ostentatious wealth and gauche misogyny, to the point where a slight deviation can be lauded as something other than a softer version of the same theme.

Questlove, of the (world famous) Roots, in his third installment of his six-part weekly series of essays, takes the theory of Hip-Hop as cultural drag and takes it a step further, arguing that the concept of Black cool has lost its luster in the current of Hip-Hop in the 21st century:

These days, the vast majority of hip-hop artists follow a…

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Trending forward: Holding our world

Image credit: lelik759 / 123RF Stock Photo

International Women’s Day, March 7, celebrated around the world. Women hold the world together.

When I first sought out career advice from a male senior executive as I was changing to my next assignment about twenty years ago, he told me “Change the way you dress. Do not wear any more dresses. Get a few dark-colored suits, a bow and tailored dress shirts.” I did and kept my dresses. It was fun to now see Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s CEO, in Vogue and Fortune magazine’s cover in about a month from each other.

This month we celebrate Women History Month. We acknowledge women in the past and ponder how to build a new future. In the United States we are making strides for women as leaders. In ten years, from 73 women in the Congress, now we have 99, or 18.5% of the 535 seats in the 113rd U.S. Congress. Twelve women hold CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies, including the first Latina, Mary Barra at GM, who has a huge challenge on her hands. Companies and entities are paying attention to the pipeline, since the ‘no good candidates’ excuse is no longer acceptable. Women-owned businesses are growing at double the rate of all firms 42.3% vs. 23.3%, and the percentage of women and other diverse groups enrolled in college is accelerating. Women are learning to ‘lean-in’ and the conversation is now a mainstream topic between and among men and women. I thank Sheryl Sandberg for igniting constructive self-evaluation, observation and dialogue.

Although great progress is clear, the pace of progress is not stellar. For example, at the current rate it would take about 100 years to get to 50% of women representation in Congress. And the number of current female Fortune 500 CEOs actually went down from last year 15. In the United States, women account for 16.9% of board seats at Fortune 500 companies. Among developed countries, the numbers are better: Norway – 36%; Finland – 26.8%; Australia – 17.83% and England – 20%. In each of these either mandates helped or, interestingly, men groups have pushed for more women representation on boards. Several studies suggest that diversity on boards contributes to higher functional performance. I am sure as more women become investors, studies will show that diversity also improves stock performance.

What can we do to accelerate it? I have homework for all sides of the issue:

- Facilitate right type of experience: Women should have opportunity to do the ‘tough’ jobs in operations, finance and profit and loss management that will prepare them for higher positions. On-the-job learning is an alternative and women should be comfortable with high-risk, high-reward positions.
– Involve men: Nobody is advocating giving opportunities to women for the sake of diversity. Learning from the best men and women around is critical. Similarly, diversity of thought and access to resources is best accomplished by involving men.
– Be easier and tougher: As women we have to become ‘easier’ on ourselves and learn from ‘can do’ attitudes because ‘I am worthy’, even if ‘never done this before’. Women need to become tougher and not take ourselves too seriously (as my husband reminds me).
– Measurement change: Mirrored images set criteria for advancement. When the image is different, measurements need adaptation (not condescension).
– Priorities first: family and children. A family, in whichever terms one defines it, is society’s foundation. Children cannot raise themselves and cool adolescents need parenting. Society in general needs to strengthen families as their definition evolves.

I am very optimistic that we are on the right track as countries like the U.S, although not perfect, strive to support women as leaders. Women innate traits such as good communications, sharing and caring for others could become the model for next generations. The responsibility is even bigger as we figure out how to help in countries where women are less respected or plainly abused. Women for centuries have held families together. Today, women must hold the world together.

I do have one worry mentioned in the book by Alison Wolf, The XX Factor: How the Rise of Working Women Has Created a Far Less Equal World. I worry that women’s ascension to leadership positions could exacerbate the gap between women (old-young; North-South, fat-skinny, educated-less formally educated) and other diverse segments of the population, including African-Americans, Hispanics, Veterans and Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender. Fortunately, I have never seen this other than in teen movies. And I hope I never do.

Let’s celebrate Women’s History Month. Let’s hold the future of our world in our hands.