Sheila Rising…

I’m so thrilled to welcome my mate Michelle Newton, futurist and consumer trends analyst to Caro & Co. In this guest post she examines the cultural shift she calls SHEILA RISING…

images-24A trend currently manifesting across Australian society, (in fact in all developed economies) is the changing role of men and women in culture. Whilst there is still a long way to go, we are starting to see an (overdue) alignment of male and female power and influence. The reason for this is largely due to the shifting behaviours and mindsets of generations X and Y (thanks in large part to their mothers and the invaluable role feminism played during the 60s and 70s). But where’s the evidence in culture that leads us to believe that Sheila is Rising?

Take language as a starting point. It is an all-important indicator of shifts in cultural thinking. There has recently been discussion in the media about fostering a boy’s emotional intelligence and whether it is appropriate to tell boys to “man up” and whether parents need to stop telling their sons that “real boys don’t cry”. Whilst for the girls, celebrity-driven campaigns such as “Run Like a Girl” and “Ban Bossy” challenge the belief that when a boy is assertive he is a natural leader, however when a girl displays the same trait she is bossy. Language surrounding girls and women is shifting to the point where descriptive words such as strong, empowered, capable and leader are becoming commonplace.

In Australia the use of female-centric Aussie colloquialisms is changing. The moniker Sheila (Urban dictionary: Australian/NZ slang for a female) is disappearing from everyday use and so too are its original connotations. The stereotype of the Aussie woman slaving over meat and three veg in the kitchen, with 2.3 kids swinging off the Hills Hoist in the back yard while she patiently waits for her husband to get home is anachronistic. Expressions such as ‘little woman’ are also fading from everyday parlance (despite many claiming it is a term of endearment). However, women have subliminally hijacked the word Sheila as they redefine what it is to be her. So is Sheila really rising? We think so.

Let’s continue to look specifically at women even though Sheila Rising impacts both men and women.

A recent report by Fortune magazine revealed major companies with female CEOs record higher stock market returns than those with men at the helm. 

The study tracked stock data from Fortune 1000 companies with female CEOs, and found they recorded, on average, “a return of 103.4% over the course of the female CEO’s tenure” ~ Fortune magazine

The female economy will have a global economic impact greater than the BRIC countries combined (Brazil, Russia, India and China). This economy represents the most important commercial opportunity in our lifetime”  ~ Boston Consulting Group

So whilst statistical evidence exists to show that the female economy is very much with us, cultural evidence needs to be examined to add a new level of understanding as to what this means for manufacturers and marketers and how they should capitalize on it. Where has Sheila risen from and what is manifesting in culture that is accelerating the rise?

Across all sectors another macro trend “People Like Me” is evident. The simple definition of this trend is “the human need to belong to like-minded groups”, as doing so validates personal values and beliefs. Technology has driven ‘community’ to be more niche than ever before. Consumers themselves are destroying traditional business models. Never before in history have we seen a consumer collective pool their data and resources to reconstruct business models for communal benefit. Crowd-funded lending sites like and Apple’s iTunes, (which has a patent out to become a financial lender) are causing a new peer-driven disruption in the banking sector. AirB&B, Uber, TripAdvisor and Trivago determine how we move about and where we stay. Etsy, Pinterest, EBay, Amazon – all are changing the way we shop and are informing our purchase decisions at every level within the retail sector. In fact, there are few sectors that have been spared this new exponential power of the people.

The one thing these organizations have in common is that they have decimated traditional hierarchical structures and instead are fostering female values such empathy, openness, flexibility, collaboration and the desire to work towards a greater communal good. So in essence, the technology that has fuelled and enabled these new ecosystems has supported Sheila Rising.

Given that females control the household purse strings, it is ironic that it’s the financial services and superannuation companies whose communication efforts are the most ineffective in engaging women. Interestingly, brands that seem to be most successful in reaching her are the ones that aren’t really trying to talk to her. Take Bunnings for example. As many women as men shop at this popular hardware store. The simple installation of the Bunnings car park sausage sizzle, face painting for kids in-store and the helpful service, assists women in their everyday life.  Proof of the success of this ‘communal good’ strategy is increased spend in-store. The informed retailer will begin to look for similar ways to engage with this new cultural reality.

From a cultural point of view, the fashion industry is under attack. It would appear that strong is the new sexy. Informed retailers and fashion designers are moving away from skinny or artificial, instead focusing on featuring strong and empowered women. Sweat and determination are Sheila Rising’s perfume. Retailers such as Lulu Lemon Athletica apparel are an example of a retailer who understands the new collective.


If we turn to the media/entertainment sector we can see more cultural evidence of Sheila Rising. This year’s runaway success is Maleficent, Disney’s latest film adaptation of the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. This is the story of Aurora, but not as you know it. Here, for the very first time in Disney history, someone other than the Prince rescues the Princess. It is Maleficent herself; a strong, empowered woman who delivers loves first kiss to Princess Aurora. This shift in who gets to play the hero epitomizes the essence of Sheila Rising.

Toy manufacturers are finally beginning to understand and market to, a child’s assumed view of a gender-neutral world. Barbie now wears a stethoscope and Lego has female scientists and they are not pink. It would seem that “All over the world, people are deploying feminine thinking and values to make their lives, and the world, better.” ~ John Gerzema, The Athena Doctrine.

Whilst there is still a long way to go, the cultural evidence is in. Sheila is rising and will continue to do so as younger generations watch their plate-spinning mothers and fathers not “have it all”, but instead merge to a more equitable place at work, home and in general society. I am encouraged for younger and future generations who will have the benefit of a world that functions in a more gender neutral way. ~ Michelle Newton

With over 15 years experience in advertising and marketing in both Australia and New York, Michelle forged a career as a successful Consumer Trends Consultant working for renowned Futurist and Trend Consultant Faith Popcorn. Her role was to examine how to connect business (both emerging and established) with the cultural “what’s next” and how best to capitalise on that. Recently returned to Australia, Michelle is the Director of Cultural Forecasting at GALKAL.





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