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The Changing Face of the Workplace
November 5, 2010
Written By: Michelle Clark, Ph.D.

In July/August 2010, The Atlantic Monthly declared, “The End of Men.” The premise of the article was: “what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women?” These are some of the statistics quoted in the article:

  • For every two men who earn a college degree in 2010, three women will.
  • Women, along with 50% of medical and law degrees, now earn 60% of master’s degrees.
  • There are now more female managers than male.
  • 75% of those who lost jobs during the recent recession were men.
These changes obviously position women to increase their career opportunities and income. In my observation, the biggest changes in gender roles at the individual level have not resulted from markedly changed political beliefs, but instead, from purely practical family-based choices. When a family’s stability relied primarily on the income of the “man of the house,” his career was prioritized. As women’s jobs become equal or more important to the family’s stability, both men and women share in managing family responsibilities at work.
 
As women progress from no outside employment to employment that is secondary to that of her spouse to careers that are at the core of the family’s financial stability, the choices both partners make regarding work/life balance are altered.
 
The percent of families with two working parents is higher in Iowa than any other state in the US. The answer to the question: “Who stays home when junior is ill, or who leaves work because an aging parent needs care?” is usually either the person who makes less money, or the person with more job flexibility. In other words, the answer to this question is very different when he is a physician and she is a secretary versus when she is a physician and he is an IT professional.
 
This means that even if your workforce is primarily male, 10 years from now, there is a very high likelihood that the spouses of your employees have careers that equal or exceed your employee’s jobs. As a result, the expectation of family flexibility will likely increase.
 
Generational differences and “entitlement” are often the topic of workplace sessions that I lead. I wonder if any of these conversations are impacted by the different family obligations brought about by truly equal careers?
 
In a recent family business discussion, the patriarch of the family recently told me that his kids, “just don’t have the work-ethic that I did.” His children had a different take on that subject. “We may come to work at 8:45 a.m. and leave for a school play in the middle of the day, but dad doesn’t see us from 10 p.m. until midnight replying to emails, reviewing financial statements, and updating spreadsheets.” We work then because it gives us both time for family and time to meet the needs of the business.
 
As you reflect on the statistics above, what changes do you envision in your business landscape, and are you ready for them?
 

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