Recently, we at Telenor Group spoke with more than a thousand women in Scandinavia and Southeast Asia to better understand how the mobile phone fits into their personal and professional lives, and how they think these devices are making an impact. We found that women use mobiles way more for personal enjoyment – and way less for business or work than we originally assumed. And despite all the talk of digital detoxing, social media is more popular than ever with them.
“The women we talked to say that the mobile phone is one of the tools that helps them shape how they balance their personal lives with their professional lives. It seems to be less of a leash to the office than we expected. We are seeing well-educated, professional women turn to mobile devices for entertainment, maintaining personal connections, and providing a break from their busy lives,” said Dr. Erica Gibson, VP of Product Management and User Research, Telenor Group.
The survey was conducted on a sample of 1300 professional women aged 25-40 in Malaysia, Myanmar, Norway, Singapore, Sweden and Thailand. This was supplemented by in-depth interviews with women in Norway, Singapore and Thailand. Pictured above: Dr. Erica Gibson, VP of Product Management and User Research, Telenor Group.
Women’s top mobile activities
Women in all six markets share the use of social media, personal messenger apps, music and news as their most frequent mobile activities. Between 50-80% of women in all markets say they use social media apps most out of any other mobile features, despite much talk of social media fatigue. Messaging apps is a close second in most markets, but stands out as the top choice in Singapore.
Online news reading is near the top of the list in Norway and Myanmar, and listening to music is Sweden and Singapore’s third highest activity. Despite the popularity of wifi-calling, women in Malaysia and Myanmar highlight personal phone calls in their three most frequent mobile activities.
In Norway and Sweden, women list work among their least frequent mobile uses, and try to completely shut out the office in the evening. Women in Southeast Asia allow work to percolate through more of their personal time, though it still takes a backseat to social media, messaging and various entertainment uses.
Relax, we feel great
When it comes to how mobiles make them feel, women in all markets say they feel “entertained” and “connected to the world”. Interestingly for the third choice, Swedish women add that they feel “addicted” while Myanmar women report being “optimistic”. Malaysia, Norway, Singapore and Thailand all share feeling “relaxed” when on their mobiles. Feelings such as “depressed”, “stressed”, “overwhelmed”, and “exposed” barely registered.
Mobiles after dark
To shed light on what happens after office hours, respondents were also asked about their last three mobile activities before bedtime and in the middle of the night. Social media came in first across the board, but subsequent options vary greatly.
Ten percent of Swedes cite a midnight online shopping habit. Women in Norway and Myanmar read news as a primary before-bed activity, though in Norway, 1 in 5 admits that “news” shifts to “reading gossip and tabloids” as the night wears on. Not allowed before bed or in the middle of the night are work activities – the least frequent undertakings mentioned by women in all markets.
No mobiles allowed?
Professional women use their mobile a lot – but there are situations in which they will disconnect. Women in all six markets say job interviews are among their top “phone off” locations. More than 90% of Scandinavian women say funerals are inappropriate for mobiles, compared to a quarter of Asian women.
Interestingly, the situations where women keep their mobiles on speak volumes, as the mobile permeates previously “sacred” social and private settings. Women in all markets are more accepting of phones in “romantic situations” than they are of phones on during job interviews or on airplanes. Thai and Myanmar women are the most unopposed to phones in intimate settings (only 13% and 3% say “turn them off”) while 39% of Swedes are against mixing phones and romance. Scandinavians are unopposed to mobiles in the loo, while Asians turn them off.
No men allowed?
One of the more provocative questions we asked, “To which degree would you support a women-only Internet?” generated an interesting response. Most eyebrow-raising: 65% of Thai women support having an Internet which is accessible only to women, because they say it would lead to less harassment and more relevant content. Singaporean women align with Scandinavian women in rejecting the concept (83% in Singapore, 90% in Sweden and 97% in Norway), saying an all-women Internet would be discriminatory and would not address safety or harassment issues. The few that were in favour, stated that a female-only Internet amongst others would be safer for kids.
“Although the notion of a ‘women-only Internet’ is a hypothetical one, we think that these wildly varied answers warrant further conversations about what women are dealing with online in Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia in order to support an idea such as this,” said Gibson.
Mobiles on the job
As for how mobile technology has impacted their working lives, nearly half of the women we talked to in Sweden and Norway said “it hasn’t”, but others said that mobiles allow them “flexibility to work anywhere”. Thai, Myanmar, Singaporean and Malaysian women agree that mobiles allow for more work flexibility. Singaporean and Malaysian women add that they think mobiles help with efficiency and work-life balance.
“Women feel empowered by the mobile to balance work and life. How the balance is struck and the role the mobile should play is ultimately a choice for professional women in Scandinavia and Asia to make themselves. Fundamentally though, after talking to these women, it’s clear that for them the mobile phone is a huge enabler and will continue to be, both professionally and privately,” said Gibson.
The bigger questions
We’re committed to supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goal #10 – Reduced Inequalities, and we wanted to know where women stood on how mobile connectivity might address larger societal or economic issues. “Information and knowledge sharing” is cited as the most important way mobiles can do this, according to about sixty percent of women in Norway, Malaysia, Singapore, Sweden and Thailand – and 80 percent of women in Myanmar. Mobile banking is identified by women in all markets as avenues through which mobile technology can solve societal challenges – cited by 7 in 10 Swedes, 6 in 10 Norwegians, and about half of Thais, Singaporeans and Malaysians.
“We found some interesting, anomalous answers from individual markets as well,” said Gibson, “A quarter of Thai and Swedish women singled out ‘loneliness’ as something mobiles can mitigate, and Singaporean women, in a country known for safety, reported that mobiles can help with personal safety.”
In the same vein, we also asked women how mobiles impacted their personal lives. Across the board, women in all six markets say that the most personally life-changing apps are social media, including messaging apps. Mobile banking is a close second in Scandinavia. In Asia, Singaporeans point to messaging apps as personal game-changers while Malaysian women appreciate various services in equal measure – social media, messaging, entertainment and search engines.