The global engineer
From 'neurocosmetics' to a car specifically designed for women - feminising technology may no longer simply be about 'making one in pink', argues E&T.
I'm a rare breed. Women may hold up half the Earth - as the Chinese saying goes - but in the world of business, they carry very few of the briefcases. And when it comes to travel, and in particular business travel, most people think of the umbrella-wielding, FT-reading, black suit-wearing male.
When I have half an hour to spare at the airport, I wander forlornly around the shops searching for a nice pair of strappy size five sandals among the row upon row of men's dull loafers and brogues. Even airport Boots seems to be awash with aftershave and clippers, rather than nail files and lipstick. And WH Smith's airport outlets are stocked with the kind of obscure magazines about cars and gadgets that you never see in a high street branch - with hardly a Marie Claire or Elle Decoration in sight.
So, it's heartening to discover companies are beginning to realise that sometimes females work on the move, too - even if they believe we do so in impossibly high heels. For that long walk to the business lounge, CocoRose has designed the foldable, flat shoe with its own tiny carrying case, complete with a little silver bow on it. When high heel agony kicks in, you simply unzip the purse, take out the shoes and unfold them, using the integral bag housed in the purse to carry the discarded heels.
Parisian beauty expert Anne Semonin also think that they have the perfect solution for cosmetic-carrying business travellers. They claim their Express Radiance ice cubes, made of spring water, evening primrose oil, red micro-algae and plant extract Tephrosia Purpurea, are part of a new generation of 'neurocosmetics', calming the skin's nerve endings, "a perfect rescue remedy for post long-haul flights, made specifically to perk you up before a big business meeting or event." I do wonder what they would recommend to the male business traveller. A stiff Scotch, perhaps?
Feminising technology may no longer simply be about producing one in pink. But designers for women still seem to enjoy stereotyping us. Notebook keyboards are being designed with wider spacing between the keys, in order to accommodate longer fingernails. Are you getting the feeling that it is male designers who imagine what women want?
If you're female and travelling to Iran, you'll soon be able to benefit from a new development in motor design. The country's biggest motor manufacturer Iran Khodro is producing a car specifically for women. This will include electronic parking aids and a jack that makes it easier to change a wheel, in the belief that such a task is beyond us. There is also talk of a bike that will conceal a woman's legs.
But what about gender-specific accommodation? What women want when they travel can be very simple. "I live in our hotels during the week and my main criteria is that I want my bedroom to look feminine and be comfortable. I don't need special products, I just want to feel pampered and special and enjoy lovely foodie treats on room service," says Sue France of the Tomahawk hotel group. "We wanted to create an environment where ladies didn't feel threatened. We know this has succeeded as the lady business guests continue to return."
But are little treats, a seductive spa and a hair straightener (lamentably still an infrequent find in a hotel room) really all a woman business traveller needs? Jury's Inn hotel group says there's been a sharp rise in the number of women business travellers staying with them, currently at over a third. But feedback from guests reveals that 76 per cent of women find it difficult to go to the bar or dine in the restaurant alone, forcing them to stay in their room rather than go for a meal or drink. Those of us who do venture downstairs usually do so grasping a book, paper, or mobile phone as a prop to diffuse embarrassment.
So Jury's introduced women's tables, where women sit together in the evening. "It's a chance for businesswomen to meet other travellers in similar circumstances, be part of a group and enjoy eating in company after work rather than being stuck in a room," says the group.
The future in business travel is clearly female. Jury's predict that by 2010, 46 per cent of all business travellers will be women. Not only are we the fastest growing customer base, we are the purchasers for both sexes. Even when we're not the ones doing the travelling, we're often the ones who approve the purchase or book the room. 'Spouse acceptance factor' is increasingly recognised as a crucial component in booking any overseas trip, business or otherwise. The right of veto is ours.
So I propose we exercise it. Let's argue that we no longer want spas, treats, and special ice cubes. We want technology that supports us in our professional capacity. We're firstly business travellers, secondly female. Let's use technology to find more efficient, faster and enjoyable ways of conducting business on the move, rather than to preserve our fingernails.