For years I have watched the data on the number of women in the U.S. workforce. The upward trend culminated (I thought) last year with the Shriver Report, which announced that women had reached the 50% mark. I recently read an article published last summer in The Atlantic titled “The End of Men.” http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-end-of-men/8135 The title is more an (unfortunate) eye-catcher than a description of the content. The author, Hanna Rosin, says that women are now a majority of the workforce. She explores the possibility that the trend may not end with equality.
Ms. Rosin sees the gender gap in higher education as a major driver of a possible reversal in who dominates the workplace. (This is data I’ve used to make the business case for creating cultures that engage and retain women.) The author suggests that women may be more suited to succeed in the modern economy. She reasons that the postindustrial economy needs intelligence (shared equally by men and women) plus social intelligence and communication skills (which she sees as attributes more likely to be held by women) vs. strength and stamina (which men are more likely to have). She reviews the workplace and cultural implications of a shift in power from men to women.
I found myself (briefly) wondering if my work will soon be obsolete! The focus of my work is on helping leaders create workplaces where both men and women (actually all people) do their best work and want to stay. I approach this work from the perspective that women still face challenges in reaching the upper levels of business (which Rosin acknowledges is still the case). One of those challenges, I believe, is that workplaces tend to reflect a higher value for the “masculine” way of doing things. (Both men and women bring masculine approaches to work; but women are more likely to also bring feminine strengths.) Rosen notes some recent movement in giving credit to the value of a more feminine management style.
The point of my work is that women will do better and business will do better when masculine and feminine approaches are equally appreciated and leveraged. Surely we have work yet to do in having feminine and masculine styles valued equally. The strongest form of leadership is one that incorporates both. And the best work gets done when one recognizes the strengths and limitations of each.
While I like the notion that women will struggle less to succeed in the world of work, I don’t like the idea of a reversal in today’s power balance. A workplace dominated by women is no better than one dominated by men. A team or organization that exhibits a primarily feminine approach and dismisses the value of a masculine approach is no better than one that favors a masculine approach and de-values a feminine approach.
And even if Ms. Rosin’s projection of a flip-flop in the traditional order comes true, one thing won’t change. We will all need to understand and value both men and women. We will all need to appreciate and leverage both masculine and feminine approaches, which ideally show up in both men and women. I think there will be a place for my work for some time. What do you think?