This year, American women will pass a major milestone: They will surpass men in the workplace. Canadian women passed the 50% threshold last year. The gender revolution has quietly overtaken us.
It has been 47 years since pioneering feminist Betty Friedan penned The Feminine Mystique, launching women on the road to economic empowerment. All these years later, memories of the injustices faced by grandmothers and mothers are fading. Sexism may have once been the norm but is now considered passé. Today, it takes a retro show like Mad Men, set in the 1960s, to remind us how far women have come in the workplace.
But here’s the rub. Women have overtaken men in the workplace, but they still don’t make as much money, and have barely made a dent in the executive ranks and boardroom.
Part of the reason is that women make up 70% of part-time workers in this country — so are paid less.But Rosenzweig & Company’s fifth annual ranking of women in top jobs at Canada’s largest public companies shows the numbers have slipped to 6.9% in 2009 from 7.2% in 2008.
“The number of women at the top is low because social arrangements haven’t kept up with these changes,” says Jay Rosenzweig, founding partner of the consulting firm. He’s referring to day care and other social nets that particularly affect women.
But there is some good news: Women may be better suited than men to have and hold jobs in the future.
First, more women than men graduate from university, making the female workforce more educated. Now, a study from Harvard University suggests that in a world where job uncertainty is increasing, women can better adapt to career change.
Boris Groysberg, associate professor in the Organizational Behavior unit at the Harvard Business School, has studied star performers in the financial field. He discovered a significant gender difference: Female stars do not suffer when they jump jobs, but men do. Top male analysts who switched employers became average; women continued to be top performers.
Mr. Groysberg said the reason has to do with a predominately male corporate culture. Men build relationships with men in the company, he says. Successful women combat the institutional barriers inside their firms by building networks outside. It is those outside relationships, he says, that make women more portable.
The message to companies: “You should be hiring women [because] women may bring a lot more of their performance [to your company] than men,” says Mr. Groysberg.
What’s more: Women tend to do more due diligence when seeking new jobs. Whereas a man will maximize around career opportunity and salary, a woman will maximize around a job that allows her to be around her family, her values and meaningful work, says Beatrix Dart, executive director, Initiative for Women in Business at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
Put simply: Women are more thoughtful at choosing their next employer. But there is a caveat. While women in knowledge-based jobs may be better suited for making lateral career moves, their strategy of developing outside networks will not help them climb the corporate ranks, says Mr. Groysberg. Women will continue to struggle for those top jobs in the corporate sector.
The answer for many is to opt out and take the entrepreneurial route.
Alison Snowball was on the corporate career path until her job on the institutional equities desk at TD Securities was restructured last year. She had prepared for this job for years. Not only did she graduate with a business of commerce degree from Dalhousie University, she had worked her way through school working at various financial institutions. Four years into a job at TD Securities, Ms. Snowball knew something wasn’t quite clicking.
“From a generational perspective, the people still in power are 25 years older than myself and have a different mentality. It’s like a locker room. That’s just the reality,” says Ms. Snowball.
So, rather than scramble for another position in the banking sector after she was laid off, Ms. Snowball decided to switch career paths. She has opened her own Toronto art gallery.
Ms. Dart of Rotman is seeing more women starting their own business because they can’t maximize opportunities in a company setting. The most successful are those who have been strategic. “Women who leave careers to raise their kids during those critical years aren’t as successful as those who seek jobs with more flexibility during those critical years,” she says.
While the trend to start a small business is often painted as “opting out,” Barbara Orser, of the University of Ottawa Telfer School of Management, argues that Canadian women “are some of the most entrepreneurial in the world.” She says women are increasingly looking to export, thinking about enterprise growth and are becoming a bigger part of the Canadian economy as a result.