Professional women use mobiles more for play than work: survey

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Image credit: Telenor

Professional women use mobiles to balance work and life – but mostly just life, according to a new Telenor Group survey.

The “Tech Trends: Women” survey – which sampled 1,300 professional women aged 25-40 in Malaysia, Myanmar, Norway, Singapore, Sweden and Thailand (all markets where Telenor operates) –  found that women use mobile phones primarily for personal enjoyment and not for business. And despite much talk of digital detoxing, social media is as popular as ever.

Among the top findings:

  • Women use their mobiles significantly more for personal messaging, entertainment and social media than they do for work; professional tasks are chosen least among mobile activities – with some exceptions in Southeast Asia.
  • Women view mobile’s role in the exchange of information and financial services as most valuable for solving larger societal and economic problems.
  • Flexibility, work-life balance and efficiency among most cited mobile value-adds to women’s professional lives.
  • Despite much talk of social media fatigue, it was found to rule mobile habits around the clock.
  • Wildly varied national opinions on a hypothetical “women-only Internet” and in which situations mobile phones should be off limits.

“By and large, 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,” said Dr. Erica Gibson, VP of product management and user research at Telenor Group. “The mobile phone 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 the rigours of their busy lives.”

Top mobile activities

All six markets share the use of social media, personal messenger apps, music and news as respondents’ 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.

Reading news is highly ranked 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.

Interestingly, when looking at top mobile activities, the survey found that the degrees to which the personal supersedes the professional on mobile phones shifts as you head from West to East. 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. Women in Thailand and Myanmar, however, both list work-related messaging and phone calls as fourth and sixth most frequent activities.

Mobile emotions

When it comes to feelings associated with mobile usage, women in all six markets were aligned in feeling “entertained” and “connected to the world” when using their mobiles. Interestingly for the third choice, Swedish women say they felt “addicted” while Myanmar women report being “optimistic”. Malaysia, Norway, Singapore and Thailand all share feeling “relaxed” while on their mobile. Feelings such as “depressed”, “stressed”, “overwhelmed”, and “exposed” were least frequently identified across the board.

Evening activities

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.

Switching off mobiles (or not)

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.

Empowering societies

As Telenor Group has committed to supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goal #10 – Reduced Inequalities, the survey also asked women for their thoughts on how mobile connectivity could address societal or economic issues. “Information and knowledge sharing” is cited as the most important way mobiles can do this, according to about 60% of women in Norway, Malaysia, Singapore, Sweden and Thailand – and 80% 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.”

A “female-only internet”?

One of the more provocative questions posed in the survey, “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 favor, 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.

Work-life balance

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.

As for how mobile technology has impacted their working lives, the most common answers in Sweden and Norway are “not changed” or 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, we see from the survey that the mobile phone is a huge enabler and will continue to be, both professionally and privately,” said Gibson.

The full survey report is available for download here [PDF].

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