Here are some interesting facts: in 2007 Canada became the first country in the world with a majority female workforce. In 2010 the United Sates of America followed suit. Currently, 70% of China’s massive semi-skilled factory workforce is made up of women fast-tracking China into second position in the race for being the world’s biggest economy. In India women are increasingly contributing to an ever growing and important local economy; and in South Africa, women make up 51% of our population; and 45% of our workforce is made up of women. All this should leave us with little doubt that women are making significant in-roads and vital contributions to all the world’s economies, especially the emerging economies, which in 2011, collectively, will make up over 50% of the world’s GDP. Sociologists, feminists and futurists all talk about ‘women entering the workplace’ and ‘women finally taking their place next to men in the economy’ etc., which is true. But what I discovered recently is that actually it would be more accurate to talk about women coming back into the workplace and returning to their equal place next to men.
What I have learned is that actually if one were to look at traditional societies anywhere in the world 1000 years ago, one would find that women were equal to men in their worth, value; and offerings sexually, socially, financially and politically. Therefore, I would argue, what we are seeing; and have seen in the last two to four years, is a huge social and cultural shift back to the ‘way it always was’. However, what I am not saying is that it is necessarily going to be an easy transition; and of course, although it is a return ‘back’, it is still a change because we have never known a majority female workforce in our working lives. I also, therefore believe that this female injection of talent will be the biggest influence on corporate culture in the last 100 years; and it could not have come at a better time.
Why could it not have come at a better time? Because we live in a connection economy, because increasingly; and globally, we are moving into a collaborative age; and if there is one thing women are really really good at, it’s connecting and collaborating, partly because they are so good at talking.
One of the things feminists have always fought for is equality between men and women. I remember learning this from a very masculine looking self-proclaimed feminist lecturer at university. Even in my 20-year old naivety I wondered why she felt the need to put men down whilst being so masculine in order to feel equal to men. Surely that was a contradiction? Men and women are different, that’s a fact. Physically we are different, emotionally we are different (driven my different hormonal make-up) and our brains are focused differently. Helen Fischer has written an excellent book called Why Him, Why Her? that is based on extensive research she has conducted in the United States. Her book investigates why we fall in love with the people we do. Whilst I would love to talk about falling in love (because I am a woman and woman love that) what I really am aiming at is talking about how the male and female brains are built differently; and how this serves us a modern work environment.
Firstly, the female brain matures at about 21; where as the male brain matures at roughly 35. This is because the testosterone-fuelled male brain is a lot denser; and I don’t mean that unkindly. But it stands to reason then that men would need broader shoulders and thicker necks to support this heavier brain, which is constructed for thinking, analysing logically, staying focused; and solving problems practically. It would make sense then that men are able to get rid of extraneous information quickly and that their focus of attention is visual. Women’s brains are different. Being oestrogen fuelled they are built for collaboration and building relationships. These are obviously generalisations, but generally, women tend to be more verbal, more articulate, more imaginative and better at multi-tasking than men. They tend to be web-thinkers, good at collecting multiple types of data (and storing it); and good at planning and plugging information into different situations when necessary. All these are phenomenally useful tools for building relationships, so necessary in the connection economy.
So I am not saying that we don’t need the male skill of analysis and logic, I am saying that we should celebrate the fact that women are returning to the workplace in their masses because they compliment their male counterparts in terms of their natural skills in a post-industrial workplace.
The only downside is; and I am sure many of you have experienced this, is that often just when a woman is truly coming in to her own, her biological clock wakes up and suddenly she wants to abandon all her ambition, commitment and massive experience in favour of Moms and tots get togethers. This makes bosses and businesses very nervous, understandably. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Regus found that 55% of South African employers fear working mothers will show less commitment and flexibility in their job. 24% of employers believe that mothers returning to work will come back with out-dated skills; and 50% are reticent that once they have up-skilled female talent, they will leave to have another child. This might partially account for the fact that although women make up the majority of our global and South African workforce when we look at statistics of women in senior management the numbers are very slim on the ground. The reason for this is that corporate culture doesn’t allow for talented women to return to the workplace or continue to operate effectively in the workplace, whilst managing their domestic responsibilities. Corporate South Africa could be more aware of their talent’s changing needs and lifestyles in an attempt to create environments that are flexible and adaptable enough to accommodate diversity and new ways of conducting business to have capacity for diversity.
And just by the way, although men being in the workplace is not my focus for this article, men are also increasingly going to want to be fathers and will also demand flexi-working hours. Younger people increasingly want more work/ life balance because they are unlikely ever to retire. Welcome to the new world of work. Enjoy you navigation.