In February 2010, The New York Times reported that, for the first time in recorded history, women outnumbered men on the nation’s payrolls.
What does this mean for the American workforce?
Unfortunately, women’s ascendance in the workplace is partially related to the recent recession. More men work in industries hit harder by the recession, such as financial services, manufacturing and construction. Women tend to predominate in industries such as education and healthcare, which have not lost as many jobs. Since December of 2008, women lost a total of 1.66 million jobs, while men lost almost three times that much, at 4.75 million. Men’s higher salaries – women still only earn 77% of what men make – also put them first on the chopping block.
As the job market stabilizes, older, experienced women appear to be on track to be the first hired back.
• Recent data shows women-owned businesses will create up to 5.5 million jobs by 2018, more than 50% of the number of jobs expected to be created by all small businesses in that time. According to the research, this will be due to the customer focus of many woman-led businesses as well as the sense of community they foster and their ability to help others succeed.
The business world is changing from a “women can’t do this job” environment to a “we need more women” environment.
• As women are taking over the skilled professional workforce, the Internet has helped destroy the “Old Boy’s Network” approach to doing business and leveled the playing field.
On the Internet, explains recruiting and career expert Paige Rhodes, “people can comparison shop for products and services quickly and easily. Your online identity is not tied so much to who you are as it is to what you can do – so you no longer have to belong to the country club to get the attention of a prospective client or employer. You can compete based on merits, and not just based on whom you know.”
Such a drastic shift has forced multinational corporations to take note – and ensure their products and services appeal to female consumers. And because it’s women, not men, who are starting more businesses, it will be women who will one day employ a majority of workers.
In the United States, nearly all net job creation since 1980 has been generated by firms operating for fewer than five years, and that number is only likely to rise as more companies outsource to countries with cheaper labor. “The job creation [we] need … is not going to come from corporations, it’s going to come from small businesses,” says Harvard business professor Nancy Koehn. “With that in mind, what we need to start thinking about is how we capitalize on this [vast network] of women entrepreneurs.”
Established corporations are starting to realize that women may be their best hope. Major companies are spending increasing amounts of time and money mentoring female employees because they consider them a key competitive edge in the global talent wars. Many studies show that companies with more women on their boards do better financially than those with less.
Why do women improve business? Recent research from the London Business School suggests that productivity levels go up when men and women work together in tandem – in part because gender parity counters the idea of group-think. Whatever the reason, there is clearly a business case for workplace equality.
“I think women are really going to shake up the workplace over the next 15 years,” says Koehn. “This is just the beginning of a tsunami of change – and it’s far bigger than any single organization.”