We are familiar with the concept of a “blue ocean” strategy developed by the famed book of that title written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. It is the concept that unlike a “red ocean strategy” of beating the competition in an existing market, a blue ocean strategy seeks to define a new ocean by tapping into (or creating) an unexplored new market area.
This strategy has proven successful for many. But for many women leaders, both red oceans and blue oceans are faced with a challenge – they are based on foundations that were created by men and, as a result, systematically make even blue oceans an uphill challenge. Think of industries like insurance, private equity, wealth management – and many others – in which it is well-known that success as a woman will be like running in quicksand. Let’s call these gray markets. Many of these industries have progressed – but they are based on traditions that hardly form the backdrop for the success of women.
We pose the following question – in gray markets if the rules and systems are set up with a bias against women, why would a woman choose to compete in a market with someone else’s rules? Put another way, why would women choose to put their passion, capital, and skills to work in a market that will only slowly accept that their institutional bias is, well, “biased.” We would suggest that while ten percent achievement in a gray market, would be groundbreaking, but why fight that fight?
We suggest a different approach – that women should actually create what we call “pink oceans.” Pink oceans are alternative solutions to markets that are institutionally biased like gray markets. And we would suggest that instead of swimming in (or against) the quicksand of gray markets, women possess all the talents, capital and passion to create their own alternatives to these markets. All of this is easier said than done, but do we believe that PayPal would have ever developed in a bank, or Netflix could have been developed by Blockbuster?
Women should create pink oceans. Pink oceans will be hard – but they will be based on foundations that reward achievement without bias. And it will only be a matter of time before gray markets will give way to pink markets.
Let’s not forget that women’s strength, ability to influence, ability to trust and successfully lead a business, family or often both, is in fact because of the different roles women hold that makes them more powerful and courageous.
Pink oceans will allow women to embrace their own power and confidence in order to shake up decades of societal pressures and bias and bring forth a better future for all.