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Microsoft executive vice president of business development Peggy Johnson speaks at the Hack for Her Summit in Seattle.

Peggy Johnson has done a lot to change the face of Microsoft in year-and-a-half she’s served as executive vice president of business development. She’s behind the acquisition of a handful of cross-platform apps that have made Outlook one of the best mobile productivity apps around. She helped forge partnerships with Cyanogen and Dropbox and many others, in a move emblematic of the changing culture at Microsoft.

Johnson spoke about how women are an untapped market
Johnson spoke about how women are an untapped market

A former Qualcomm executive, she was Satya Nadella’s first big hire as Microsoft CEO. But on Tuesday night, she wasn’t talking about Microsoft’s broader corporate strategy. Instead, she was making the case to change the tech industry to better accommodate women as consumers.

“We all have to think about the emerging markets. And you probably have given a lot of thought to the largest emerging markets, China and India,” Johnson said. “But I think what gets lost is that a bigger emerging market is, surprisingly, women. Women themselves are an emerging market. There are more and more women entering into the workforce themselves. More and more of them are making more money.”

Johnson spoke at the Hack for Her Summit, which is billed as “a Microsoft-led movement that brings together men and women of diverse backgrounds and skills” with the goal of creating “products and services that women and girls love.” The event, held at the Impact Hub in Seattle, featured speakers talking about subjects including overcoming the status quo of male-centered design with more thoughtful considerations for all buyers.

The Microsoft exec said designing for women is a smart business decision.

“It’s not just about checking the box on corporate social responsibility,” Johnson said. “It’s about hitting our bottom line.”

Johnson asserted that women are an emerging market not only in tech but in all sectors, and companies that fail to capture women’s dollars will lose out significantly.

The stakes are high, with women making 75 percent of household buying decisions in the U.S., and representing $18 trillion in earnings worldwide. But making products for women, Johnson said, is more than just making something in pink. In particular, Johnson pointed to “blinged-out” smartwatches she found at CES this year and the Bic for Her pens that look the same as standard Bic pens.

“The industry hasn’t really accepted the fact that many times we don’t have pockets, so where is our phone?” Johnson said. “It’s in our purse, which is off away from us, it rings, you get text messages, you don’t know about it. Very, very frustrating.”

One solution she takes pride in at Microsoft is the Surface. In the tech press, it’s known as a device that can potentially serve the roles of both a tablet and a laptop, but Johnson said she’s happy that it fits in her purse.

“One of the key designers on it was a woman,” Johnson said, explaining that the designer found she was often making tradeoffs in her purse — deciding what to put it and what to leave out. Many times a full-size laptop didn’t fit with everything else. “This is the first time I’ve had [the full] capability of a laptop in this 2-in-1 device that can fit inside my purse,” Johnson said. “It’s been wonderful.”

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