Despite the recent The Economist magazine proclamation of pending equality in the workplace, evidence suggests that the situation is more complex.
Commentators on my recent post here at Creative Class raised several good points:
Alan Says: Start celebrating when women earn 50% of total salaries – I expect the champagne will remain on ice for a long time/ probably forever. Sorry of this seems pessimistic.
Jana Says: There’s a big difference between women being 50% of the workforce and women being equally represented in the workforce. My guess is that the majority of the women in the study are in lower level positions than the men. An example being that in one company I worked for was that the majority of the accounting department was female, but these were people inputting invoices, doing reconciliations and payroll. The counterpart was that the head of the department was male.
Without a better look at the statistics I’m not sure if this is something to celebrate.
The folks at Economix blog also weighed in:
Furthermore, the Current Population Survey data show that women are more than twice as likely as men to work part time (24.6 percent in 2008 compared with 11.1 percent in 2008). A measure of equal participation in paid employment should take that difference in hours into account.
The Economist notes that women remain underrepresented in management positions but registers considerable optimism concerning current trends.
By contrast, recent research by the sociologists Philip Cohen, Matt Huffman and Stefanie Knauer showed that women’s entry into management positions in the United States slowed significantly in the 1990s.
The consensus seems to be that The Economist jumped the gun in declaring a female victory.
In light of this discussion, it’s worth re-examining and considering Penelope Trunk’s long-held belief that women — along with younger generations invading the workforce — have changed the entire workplace game. I agree with Trunk that for many women and men, the new career (or should I say life) goal isn’t to maximize salary but instead to maximize life experiences, including those of raising children, spending time with friends and family, and generally enjoying the rich offerings life gives.
From a 2005 Penelope Trunk blog post:
Forget the glass ceiling because it’s about to become irrelevant. Not because women are finally going to get to the top of Fortune 500 companies in forces of more than two companies at a time. That may happen, but no one’s holding their breath. The glass ceiling is going to become irrelevant because the women who are coming into the workforce now see what’s above that glass and they are uninterested.
…. five years after earning an MBA, 40% of women are working from home. Often the press writes about this statistic like it’s a travesty, but I think it’s great. It’s an achievement that these women have decided they can find success on their own terms instead of having to fit themselves through paths that were established for men, decades ago.
The disenchantment with corporate life is not limited to women: eighty percent of men aged 20 to 39 said that a flexible job to accommodate kids takes a higher priority than doing challenging work or earning a high salary.
Many women with children — and increasingly their male partners as well — will gladly forgo career advancement, and the higher salaries that go along with it, in return for a more flexible job that allows for a better and more fulfilling family life.
Moreover, many organizations have much less hierarchical structures today. This suits the many women and men who value life experiences over corporate ladder-climbing. Working on interesting projects and with great people is a life experience they treasure — climbing a corporate ladder increasingly is not.