Economics and investment banking remain male-dominated fields, but even there much has changed. The alpha-male attitude of the ‘boys’-locker-room type’ trading floors has largely morphed into a bastion for quants and geeks with many more women doing serious trading and analysis. Women now represent nearly half (47%) of the labour force in both Canada and the U.S., compared to only 35% in 1965 (U.S. data). Yet, women represent only 3% of the Fortune 500 CEOs, 10% of corporate boards in Canada, 16% of such boards in the U.S. and roughly 15%-to-18% of corporate executives.
Women still earn between 10% and 30% less than men for the same work. But that is better than the 48% income gap in 1970. Women have made great strides; however, in the corporate world there is still a long way to go to reach gender equality. Other sectors of the job market have been far more welcoming, and for today’s generation of female students the tables may well be turned by the time they reach their peak earning years. Men were hit harder than women in the Great Recession because of substantial layoffs in male-dominated manufacturing, construction and financial services. Of the 8.6 million people who lost their jobs in the U.S., 68% were men. In Canada, men were a whopping 75% of the 430,000 job losers. Labour force participation rates have fallen sharply in the U.S.—less so in Canada for men and not at all for women. In both countries, the prime-age participation rate (16-65) for men is at a record low—78.8% in the U.S. and 81.5% in Canada.
The prime-age participation rate for women in Canada is at a record high 74.1% compared to 67.6% in the U.S., down slightly from its peak. In the past thirty years, women have taken on a growing percentage of so-called ‘male’ jobs, but men have been reticent to consider traditionally female jobs.
Despite the high unemployment rate, few men have become nurses, elementary or pre-school teachers, dental hygienists, daycare providers or secretaries. While, in the aggregate, women still earn less than men in the same field, women in their 20s out-earn men in the same demographic and they are better educated. There has been a major reversal in educational attainment. Since 1970, the proportion of men with university degrees has risen from 20% to only 26%; whereas for women, the proportion has nearly tripled from a mere 12% to 34%. According to a Pew Research Center January 2010 U.S. study, U.S.-born Caucasians between the ages of 30 to 44 belong to the first cohort in history to have more women than men with college degrees. The trend is very similar in Canada. Societal shifts resulting from these developments have been significant. For example, at least in terms of income growth over the past forty years, marriage has benefited men more than women. Median household incomes rose 60% between 1970 and 2007 for married men, married women, and unmarried women. However, for unmarried men, median household income increased a meager 16%. Although the gender earnings gap remains, it has narrowed. Over this period, earnings growth for women was 44% compared to only 6% for men. This has shifted the balance of economic power in families. In 1970, 80% of men were better educated than their wives, while in 2007 that ratio fell to 72% and it is still falling. The numbers are even more striking for married women with advanced degrees, as 60% of them were better educated than their husbands. On the basis of income, in 1970 only 4% of wives out-earned their husbands compared to 38% in dual-income families. A sizable 45% of married women with graduate degrees out-earned their mates. And, 40% of mothers in the U.S. are the primary breadwinners, many of whom are single. These trends will accelerate. Women now earn 60% of all BA and Masters degrees in the U.S., and more than 50% of all PhDs. Women are now earning half of all medical and law degrees, 42% of MBAs, and 46% of engineering and science degrees. In fact, many private universities and colleges are quietly introducing ‘affirmative action’ programs for men, accepting some lesser-qualified males to avoid even more skewed gender distribution. On the job front, women are also outperforming in many fields; twelve of the fifteen fastest growing sectors in the U.S. are now dominated by women. More than half of all managerial and professional positions are held by women. In the U.S., they account for roughly 54% of accountants, 60% of pharmacists, 33% of physicians and 45% of lawyers, and those numbers are rising fast as women enter the degree programs in increasing numbers. Women also represent more than half of all small business owners. In the post-industrial economy of the 21st century, businesses must deal with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). A highly educated diverse workforce is essential. Organizations and individuals must be fluid, adaptable, flexible, agile and intuitive. Collaboration and networking are essential. Hierarchies no longer serve because they are rigid and brittle. The VUCA world rewards networks and fluid teams because they are more agile. Diversity is important to generate new ways of thinking and to throw out the stale modes of thought and behavior of the past. Businesses that don’t adjust quickly to this reality will not attract and retain top talent; they will be less innovative and ultimately fail. The traits that are of most value today are innovation, adaptability, collaboration, emotional intelligence, team play, vision and empathy. Today’s leaders are expected to do more than command and control; they are asked to motivate, inspire, teach, communicate and model integrity and personal growth. What worked on a battlefield—or during a genuine crisis—is not appropriate in today’s business environment. ‘Alpha-male’ characteristics carried to an extreme, such as dominance, aggression, bullying and a winner-take-all mindset cause damage. Dysfunctional alphas create resistance, resentment, and revenge. People might admire their competence, but they hate reporting to them or teaming with them. Great damage is done by alpha managers who demoralize their staff with autocratic, abusive, or micromanaging tactics. No one likes alpha coworkers who are demanding, impatient, and unwilling to listen. Those that look out only for themselves, who solo rather than collaborate, reduce the productivity and morale of the team and the organization. Not all alphas are male, although research shows they are more likely to be male than female characteristics. As the mother of boys, I feel strongly that we must re-think our methods of education, particularly early-childhood education. We must value, encourage and role model the softer skills. Boys need to see nurturing dads and successful moms as much as vice versa. Bottom Line: There is still a gender gap and surprisingly limited female participation in the C-suites and boardrooms of large corporations. But girls are now outperforming boys in schools, colleges and universities. Women are dominating a growing number of professions and smaller businesses. It may stand conventional wisdom on its head, but success in the future will require young men and male-dominated corporations to adapt quickly to the growing global competition of young women and female-dominated businesses.