It was meant to give men insight: They slipped on heels, donned garbage bags that mimicked skirts, wore gloves fitted with press-on nails and hauled a doll and a stroller.
That’s the Mr. Mom experiment General Motors Corp. conducted while designing a family of SUVs — think Chevrolet Tahoe or Escalade — to give the company insight into what women need when it comes to what they drive.
“We wanted to make sure the men designers were in touch with all customers,” says Mary Sipes, who until Oct. 3 was GM’s vehicle line director of full-size trucks. She was promoted to North America vice president of product planning.
“It was really about thinking differently as a customer.”
After all, women are about more than skirts and nails, Mary acknowledges. Few complain about whether it’s tough to move the radio dial with long nails, and most can figure out how to get into cars regardless of their attire.
The experiment, conducted about four years ago as the company designed the 2007 SUVs, began when some men designers said that running boards — those pseudo-steps for boosts into vehicles — were costly and unnecessary.
Mary says a 6-foot-2 man likely can’t empathize with a 5-foot-2 woman wearing a skirt and heels, and so the light-hearted experiment was born.
It’s drawn its share of criticism.
“It made me laugh,” says Dori Molitor, CEO and founder of WomanWise, which specializes in marketing brands to women. “My first thought was they should hire people who know and understand women.”
Women are far more rational in what they buy, Dori says. “They’re looking for reliability, quality, safety, value,” Dori says. “She cares about the social responsibility of the company she’s buying from.”
A mother likely pays attention to how easy it is to load her kids into the car — but, then again, so does a dad.
Mary agrees: “There’s nothing anymore you can truly gender divide.”
The goal, she says, was simply to broaden horizons.
“Anyone can go to a diversity class and be told to be mindful,” Mary says. “This was a chance to walk in someone else’s shoes — literally.”