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Are we entering The Age of Women?

Are we entering The Age of Women?

For the past century women's progress has been cast as a struggle for equality with men. But what if equality isn't the end point? What if modern postindustrial society is simply better suited to women?

That's the question posed by Hanna Rosin in a provocative article in The Atlantic Monthly.

Men in ancient Greece tied off their left testicle in an effort to produce male heirs; women have killed themselves (or been killed) for failing to bear sons. Simone de Beauvoir suggested women so detested their femininity that they regarded their newborn daughters with irritation and disgust.Rosin says that now the centuries old preference for sons is eroding, and may even be reversing. Many successful women today want daughters who are like them, not sons.

What are the reasons for this reversal?

The global economy is evolving in a way that is eroding the historical preference for male children, on a worldwide scale. Even the predominant male cultures of the past such as Korea, India and China, which have undergone rapid industrialization, are experiencing this shift. Rosin argues the reason for the shift is that physical strength and stamina--male abilities, once required for economic success--are being eclipsed by thinking, knowledge and communicating--which can equally provided by women.

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The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has measured economic and political power of women in 162 countries and concluded, with few exceptions, the greater the power of women, the greater the country's economic success. And there are indications in the U.S. that American parents are beginning to choose to have girls over boys, argues Rosin.

Of all the 8 million jobs lost during the current recession, almost 80% were those of men, identified with the male identity--construction, manufacturing and finance. Earlier this year, for the first time in American history, the majority of workers are women. And as I described in my Psychology Today article, The Male Identity Crisis: What Will Happen To Men, boys are seriously under-achieving in public schools in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia. Men now comprise barely 40% of enrolled University and College students and graduates. In fact, a gender education gap, in which women are far outpacing men in terms of educational achievement, has been quietly growing in America over the past few decades.

In 2009, for instance, women will earn more degrees in higher education than men in every possible category, from bachelor's level to Ph.D.s, according to the U.S. Department of Education. When it comes to masters-level education, for instance, U.S. women earn 159 degrees for every 100 awarded to men. For the first time, less than 50% of law school graduates are men in North America.Women are beginning to dominate middle management in organizations as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women now hold over 50% of managerial and professional jobs, up from 26% in l980. Women also make up more than 54% of all accountants and hold 50% of all banking and insurance jobs.

In both the U.S. and Canada, the majority of small business startups and entrepreneurial ventures belong to women, and the failure rates for small business startups are considerably lower for women than men.
Women own more than 40% of private businesses in China, where a red Ferrari is the new status symbol for female entrepreneurs. Women are assuming the top political positions in an increasing number of countries, including Australia, Finland, Argentina, Ireland, New Zealand, The Philippines and Latvia, and Iceland's Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir is the world's first openly lesbian head of state. Norway has legislated a requirement that 40% of organization's boards of directors must be female.

In 1970 women contributed 2-6% of family income; now the typical working wife brings home over 42% of family income; and 40% of mothers, many of them single, are primary breadwinners in their families. The idealized family, where the father works and the mother stay at home, is a thing of the past. As women become equal breadwinners, increasing number of them are unable to find men with a similar income and education, and are foregoing marriage altogether. In 1970, 84% of women ages 30-44 were married, now 60% are unmarried.

The one area that women have not been able to establish equal footing is senior leadership in corporations, with only 3% of the Fortune 500 CEOs being womenAnd while female CEOs may be a rarity, according to Rosin, they out earned their male counterparts by 43%.

What does the future look like for men and women in the future job market? Only 2 of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most over the next decade are traditionally male dominated--janitor and computer engineer. According to the Center for American Progress many of the new jobs replace the things that women used to do in the home for free. The range of acceptable masculine roles has changed very little as men avoid some careers that mostly women enter--for example, nursing.

Rosin describes how male support groups have sprung up in the Rust Belt and other places in America where the postindustrial economy has turned traditional family roles upside down, with some groups helping men cope with unemployment and others helping them reconnect with their alienated families.

The argument has been made by many experts of the essential role of fathers in families, and how the absence of fathers has led to more poverty, crime and lack of education in American families. According to recent research, these conclusions may be questionable. Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz, who published their findings in the Journal of Marriage and Family, argue that the idea of what fathers do and provide are based primarily on contrasts between married-couple parents and single-female parents. They concluded that single moms tend to be more involved, set more rules, communicate better and feel closer to their children than single fathers, and their children do better in school and participate in less delinquent behavior as teens. The quality of parenting matters, the authors say, not the gender of parents.

David Gergen, former advisor to 3 American presidents, argues in his book, Enlightened Power: How Women Are Transforming the Practice of Leadership, "Women are knocking on the door of leadership at the very moment when their talents are especially well matched with the requirements of the day." What are these talents? Aggressiveness? Competitiveness? While traditional wisdom would describe men as having these talents and women not, recent research by Alice Eagly and Linda Carli, published in their book, Through the Labryrinth, question this conclusion. The researchers conclude that men and women are equally assertive and competitive. A McKinsey & Company study of women in leadership, Women Matter 2, concluded that, of the desired leadership behaviors, women apply five of the nine behaviors more frequently than men.

The newest perspective on leadership, one that is necessary for modern times is called transformational leadership, which focuses on collaboration, inspiring and empowering others. Transformational leaders have the ability to actually transform individuals and organizations. They represent the high moral road of leadership, involving a unique bonding among leaders and followers. Leadership experts suggest the transformational leader behaved much like a teacher, coach, confident, counselor and teacher.

The emerging organization, however, can be argued as more feminine in gender because it is characterized by collaboration, the delegation of authority, empowerment, trust, openness, concern for the whole person, an emphasis on interpersonal relations, and the inevitability of interdependence. The type of organization that would appear to be the perfect platform for what Dr. Lois Frankel in her book, See Jane Lead: 99 Ways for Women to Take Charge at Work. Frankel states that women have always lead, but not in ways that were valued or recognized in traditional ways.

Some would argue that the transformational style of leadership is more suited to a more feminine style. Researchers at Columbia Business School and the University of Maryland analyzed data on the top 1,500 U.S. companies from 1992 to 2006 to determine the relationship between firm performance and female participation in senior management. Companies that had women in top positions performed better. The same study ranked American industries by the proportion of firms that employed female executives and the bottom of the list reads like the ghosts of the economy past--shipbuilding, real estate, coal, steelworks and machinery.

Judith White and Ellen Langer, writing in the Journal of Social Issues, on the issue of gender differences in leadership describe what may be an organizational paradox: If women emulate a masculine leadership style, their male subordinates will dislike them. If they adopt a stereotypically warm and nurturing feminine style they will be liked but not respected. The authors argue that the gender stereotype of women as warm, nurturing and caring and the corresponding stereotype of men as cold, competitive and authoritarian may have contributed to a popular perception that women are less effective than men in leadership positions, despite the evidence to the contrary.

Dr. Kenneth Nowack examined research associated with gender differences in leadership styles. He concluded that women do indeed lead differently than men based on brain differences, socialization and hormones. More than 160 studies have shown that women tend to use more participative styles compared to men, and an additional review of over 80 studies found that men and women favor women leaders when the role requires high cooperation. Nowack cites research on the biological basis of empathy and trust among adults, with the general finding supporting the idea that changes in oxytocin in the brain is significantly associated with increased trust, collaboration, empathy and pro-social behavioral. Studies show that women in general have more pronounced levels of oxytocin.

Are we witnessing the creation of an alpha female to replace the alpha male? Certainly a lot of Hollywood images of strong, successful women in middle age would suggest so. Meanwhile, we may have witnessed the death of the Marlboro Man, "master of the wild beast and wild country," says Rosin, and the poor equivalent today is the overweight man in his "souped up" Dodge Charger.

One thing is for sure. It's clear that women are coming into their own in this world of turbulent economic change and paradigm shifts, while men struggle to claim an identity that's not tied to the past. The only remaining bastions of male dominance--top political, corporate and military leadership--are a beachhead yet to be made. Then will we have truly entered the Age of Women?

 

 

Ray Williams is the author of Breaking Bad Habits and The Leadership Edge.

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