The administration sees green shoots appearing in the economic data. We share that optimism. But we’re focused on the arrival of a different color — we see a pink lining in this recession. In the midst of all the fiscal gloom, the stress over stress tests, there is a part of the population which is, in fact, benefiting from the economic environment. Women. America is on the verge of the biggest workplace revolution since the Second World War. Back then, women were ushered into the work force in vast, unprecedented numbers. And they stayed. Now a different national crisis is set to remake the labor force. In a new and dramatic fashion.
We call this seismic shift Womenomics: the emergence of a new workforce dynamic that is giving women the power to tailor their work lives to better suit their needs. It is a revolution that will allow us to live and work the way we’ve always wanted.
We have enormous professional clout today. Clout that most women don’t even know about. Survey after survey from California to Norway shows that women are not only good for business, but that companies that employ more senior women actually make more money. Call it Pink Profits. The female management style is seen as distinct — and even better. We’re more inclusive, more focused on long-term results and more risk-averse. The buzz this year at Davos? How much better off the economic world would be right now if there had been more sisters at Lehman Brothers. Women are no longer employed as a polite nod to office diversity; we get the jobs because we get the job done – and bring in the profits.
Moreover, in this downturn men are losing their jobs at a faster pace than women. Any day now we will make up a majority in the U.S. labor market. Women are also better educated than men, with more of the coveted graduate degrees that are key indicators of professional and managerial success. And we have the power of our purses. We consume more than men (in 2007, for the first time women even bought more cars than men) and those spending dollars give us huge leverage. Who knows how to cater to our tastes better than we do?
Could it be that it’s okay — finally — to state the obvious? We’re not men.
We not only don’t work the same way — we don’t want the same things or relish the climb up the corporate ladder with such testosterone-driven zeal. We have come to realize that the old career goal of “having it all” really meant “doing it all”, that doesn’t work for us. Indeed, those 60-hour work weeks, the office-meeting-to-day-care-closing dashes, the juggling and struggling — they all tend to push us out the corporate door forever. As Harvard Business School discovered a few years ago, when women are faced with the agonizing choice between career and kids, the children tend to win.
But in a Womenomics world, we don’t have to make that choice anymore. We now have so much clout in the marketplace that we’re not prepared to sit meekly at the boardroom table anymore. We’re rebuilding that table and making it more female friendly.
All across America professional women are carving out work lives that really suit them. Lives where they have time for children, elderly parents, pets, marathons or just themselves. Four out of five of us say we want more flexibility at work. More and more of us want less responsibility. We no longer see our careers as ladders but as waves. We are asking for — and for the first time, in big numbers, we are getting — the right to dial our careers down and dial them back up, according to our needs.
It’s not always easy or straightforward — but we’re choosing to negotiate, to push, for work arrangements that allow us to keep our careers rather than abandon them. And it’s working, because (who knew?) we’re valuable! The mommy-track isn’t a seldom-traveled road to nowhere anymore. It’s become a busy path, often shared by men these days, and one that can still lead to the upper eschelons. Gen Y, in fact, won’t travel any other way, and employers are rushing to accommodate.
And here’s the really exciting thing; the companies that let us work the way we want are discovering huge benefits. Businesses like Best Buy, which have thrown out the clocks and now judge performance entirely on results rather than hours spent in the cubicle, have seen their productivity increase enormously — sometimes by as much as 40%. Why? Because if you treat women, and men, like adults, it should be little surprise their performance improves.
Hang on, you’re probably thinking. What about the big R word? Won’t the recession just put an end to all of this nutty-crunch, feel-good stuff? On the contrary. The truth is rocky economic times are speeding the change. Companies that can no longer reward employees with hefty bonuses, or even any additional cash at all, are looking for more creative ways to hang on to valuable talent. Women, the majority of whom will trade status and dollars for time, are suddenly finding their employers more receptive to alternative work schedules than they were during boom times. And so women are doubly desirable employees now, because not only is our work valued, but our values make us more flexible to strapped employers. Since time is our critical currency, since we’re often looking beyond money alone, we can help employers ride out the crises while reaping benefits ourselves.
Four-day work weeks, furloughs, working from home to save on real-estate costs–all of these once exotic arrangements have become even more commonplace in recent months. And just as with the arrival of women in factories in the 1940s — things will never be the same. Because these moves aren’t just a short-term fix. They will usher in efficiencies and productivity boosts that so far, only enlightened companies have benefited from, and that the newcomers won’t want to lose.
The world of Womenomics has arrived. Don’t let the gloomy economic headlines frighten you. It’s a terrific time to be a professional woman.
©2009 Claire Shipman & Katty Kay, authors of Womenomics
Claire Shipman is the senior national correspondent for ABC News’ Good Morning America and a regular on This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Previously, Shipman was the White House correspondent for NBC news and a reporter for CNN in Moscow, where she earned multiple awards for her coverage of the demise of the Soviet Union. She currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and two children.
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