The Gamma Woman: The New and Improved Box

standoutcrowd.JPGby Pamela Weinsaft (New York City)

Last week, Advertising Age held its annual Women to Watch Awards Luncheon, honoring thirty of “the most innovative, empowered and accomplished women in the world of media and marketing.” Hailing from industries as varied as energy, internet entertainment, professional sports and banking, among others, the honorees were given just a couple of minutes to answer a single question posed – mostly related to marketing advice or work-life balance.

Each of the speakers was inspiring and powerful. Helen Clark, Corporate Marketing Manager of Chevron Corporation-under whose guidance the successful “Power of Human Energy” campaign was launched-advised “be brave…know your challenges.” Lynda Clarizio, President of Platform A at AOL, the world’s largest online ad network, told the crowd of the importance of having a “clear, strategic vision…” and “to not be afraid to make the tough decisions.” And Annette Stover, CEO of Euro RSCG, New York, advised to “capitalize on teamwork and technology” when attempting to achieve work-life balance.

The room was packed with powerful and accomplished women–event organizers, honorees, and audience members alike–who have broken free of stereotypes and surpassed expectations to reach the top of their fields. This made the announcement by Meredith Publishing, one of the sponsors of the event, all the more incongruous. Meredith Publishing’s new study, “The Gamma Factor”, purports to define a powerful marketing segment: the “Gamma woman”.

Study authors Lisa Finn and Lisa Johnson write, “the Gamma woman is defined to relation to what she is not: an Alpha woman.” She is neither the “queen bee ‘alphas’ or their ‘beta’ followers. Finn and Johnson continue: “Alphas value status and express their high standing on the social ladder through their clothes, their homes, their cars, their careers, and even their families. Gammas, on the other hand, may be equally well-off financially and may shop in the same stores but their choices are about expressing their creativity and personal style, making their homes comfortable and welcoming, and doing their part to preserve the environment.”

According to the study, a “Gamma woman” is guided by her internal beliefs, passions, and priorities, as opposed to the Alpha woman, who is driven by external social hierarchies or other indicators of status or popularity. Gamma women share and exchange information, ideas, and opinions with their wide-reaching network, using channels of communication. This is purportedly in sharp contrast to the top-down, selective sharing ‘Alpha’ style of communication. While a Gamma’s sense of self is guided by her internal beliefs, passions, and priorities, an Alpha is supposedly driven by external social hierarchies or other indicators of status or popularity. Within the “Gamma Mindset”, the authors identified five key personality profiles:

  1. the Connector – She believes people can accomplish more together than they can alone. She enjoys sharing her experiences, passions and recommendations with her network of friends and family. Fluent in social interactivity aspects of Web 2.0, her interest stems from a desire to keep in touch rather than simply the love of technology.

  2. the Catalyst – She wants to impact her community, and ultimately the world at large, in meaningful ways. She finds great pleasure in volunteering her time and inspiring others to do the same.

  3. the Family-Focused – These Gammas put their family first; work exists to serve family needs, not the reverse. She looks to family and close friends to stay grounded and considers her loved ones her personal board of advisors. She uses technology to seek out information, but relies more heavily on personal connections for support.

  4. the DIY Creator – She lives life by her own compass and expresses herself by creating. She enjoys sharing ideas and techniques with fellow enthusiasts, and finding a way to bring creativity into their daily lives.

  5. the Challenge-Seeker – She is always ready for a great adventure and focuses on the possibilities, not limits. She seeks out the exotic and challenging in all aspects of her life.

For the record, the authors of the study claim that 51% of all women surveyed exhibited “Gamma-like traits”. So is this really something new, or just another box we can stuff people into that then becomes its own classification? Is this another “chicken or egg” phenomena, where marketers define a category–think GenY–which then becomes a group that people of a certain age WANT to be part of?

And what of the event’s honorees? I’m certain a few, if not all, of them possess not only a bit of the Alpha/queen bee desire to rise to the top, but the inclination to build relationships and communities that are the hallmark of the Gamma? Chicken or egg indeed–are these women successful because of their Alpha-ness, or in spite of their Gamma-ness? Does Alpha-ness necessarily preclude Gamma-ness? And is either extreme really the thing women should strive for?

How can anyone look at a roomful of successful women and assume that each has gotten to the top without embracing community, creativity, and connectivity? Would it surprise anyone to discover that there’s yet another way to make us believe that these boxes are better than the old boxes–the ones we’ve spent over 50 years getting out of–and that they’ve improved the boxes SO much that now we really want to get into them?

To me, although this seems innocuous on its face–you don’t have to be much smarter than a fifth grader to understand that females are socialized to seek consensus and inclusion–I found myself chafing at the idea that somehow, it’s just this simple to put people into categories. Moreover, these categories seem, frankly, just a bit obvious, as if they’ve been here all along. I can hear it now: “NEW AND IMPROVED: IT’S BOX! It used to have sides and a top; now it has a top and sides. It’s 51% less confining, with all the same features you loved before.” What next: The Omega woman? She’s all things to all people, yet fits into no other category, and makes no one happy – not her family, not her company, not the marketers, and not herself.