America has continued to learn how to deal with strong women during the great demographic shift in history. Media darlings such as Dolly Parton and Coach Pat Summitt highlight the power of women in their profession. According to Fortune Magazine, 15 Fortune 500 companies are run by women. Leading the charge are Secretary of State Hilliary Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the government front. In fact, there is a long list of successful women in all types of institutions (Oprah Winfrey, Sarah Palin, Faith Hill, etc.).
Yet, the road to success for women isn’t easy. Many women’s dreams of a successful career have come to reality. Strangely enough, some women have been trying to have it all. This marks the clash. There are women who focus on the primary care of their families while delaying their personal dreams. Others dedicate their lives to their careers while compromising the stability of their families. In the middle, there are millions of mothers who attempt to do it all out of necessity and attempt to chase the great American Dream. I am focusing this discussion on the issues facing professional women in contemporary society. In fact, I conducted my own mini-action research project. I interviewed several professional women in the Knoxville area. However, their real names are not disclosed, to protect them. I am sure you can relate to potential drama since these ladies work in small industries.
According to the 2005 Census Report, there are 82.5 million mothers in the United States, and there are 10 million single mothers living with children under 18 years old. Working moms make up 55 percent of mothers with infants. Feminists celebrate the liberation of working women while traditionalists postulate the merits of home-bound mothers for institutional stability. In fact, some people blame the moral decay of the country on mothers abandoning their families for professional careers. Many women try to maintain a healthy balance of work and family life, but this balancing act leaves some of them “burnt out.” Therefore, there is a growing problem for women in particular and society in general in understanding consequences of women’s power in the near future.
Women stand at the fore front of disruptive change in the political, social, economic, and technological sectors of most counties. Dr. James Canton’s The Extreme Future notes “Women will comprise a high percentage of new workers and leaders, forever changing the politics of boardrooms and markets.” According to a US Census report, nearly one-third of all married women in the US make more than their husbands. More than 25% of working wives earned more their husbands in 2007 (up from 20% in 1983). Furthermore, women are earning college degrees at a faster pace than men. Between 2000 and 2001, women earned 57% of all undergraduate degrees.
Woman power is also being flexed in the corporate world. In 1983, women held 34% of all US executive and managerial positions. However, women held more than 50% of these positions in 2003. Futurist John Cashmen predicts women will forever change the landscape of all institutions: “The number of women in the primary breadwinner role will likely grow in coming decades, driven by social change and the fact that women’s educational achievement is outpacing men’s in many parts of the world.” Therefore, executives must consider how the changing roles of women in organizations will impact their corporate strategies.
The Career Strategy
Progressive women need to develop critical career strategies in a holistic fashion. Balancing work and family is difficult. In general, some men are already taking this transition personally. Some men are opting for the domestic life while their wives become the principal breadwinners. Therefore, society watches gender role reversals and wonder how it will end…relational success or failure?
For working women, any results are often problematic anyway. Yenissee Alonso and Vickie Brint, authors of the article Women in the Workplace, argue that women still deal with institutional barriers that keep them from being successful. For example, women in general are making less than their counterparts doing the same job with the same experience.
Alonso and Brint note, “Since nearly half of the workforce is comprised of women, it stands to reason that woman should be enjoying the same success as their male counterparts in terms of advancement opportunities and earning capacity.” Princeton researchers in a 2003 study concluded that college-educated women who hold higher expectations for their potential mate may lower their chances for getting married. In fact, some men may be uncomfortable with having a woman who has more education and makes more than them, postulate some theorists.
Sue Means is a professional engineer in a highly competitive consulting industry. She sees challenges for professional women. She notes that men are treated differently. Means explains, “Some of my colleagues talk about how pretty I am. They comment on my clothes and make suggestions regarding what I should wear. That would not happen to a man.”
Liza Fuller is a government program manager with a decade of experience in handling difficult environmental issues. She exists in a mostly male dominated industry. Fuller notes, “Women are still expected to work harder than men to prove themselves and avoid criticism. Attractive women still get grief about being promoted for reasons other than their own merit and it’s not fair.”
Furthermore, Canton suggests that the most educated, skilled, and experienced employees will be in high demand. Therefore, professional women need better strategies. Means recommends prioritizing what’s important: “I let go what’s not important. Most women get overwhelmed with trying to manage all of the household and family responsibilities while working at the same time. You need to be realistic about what you can do. It’s a balancing act.” Some women feel that they can have it all without any drop off. Fuller disagrees: “There is always a sacrifice because you spend more time away from your family.” Although there will be an ever increasing number of opportunities for women in the workplace, women must analyze every career move in a holistic fashion if they want to keep that delicate balance.
The future is bright for working women as never before. In fact, women will drive most institutions toward major changes in the near term. However, this article demonstrated that the road to success for most professional women isn’t easy. They must deal with sexism to a certain degree. However, the demands of their professional life have not kept up with the heavy demands of a family and personal life. Therefore, women must develop career strategies in a holistic manner that maximizes their efforts. In turn, society must learn how to embrace women’s power in the future if America hopes to continue to compete.
Is it impossible for women in leadership to balance their professional and personal lives? If so, how? Can contemporary organizations change to fit the ever changing gender role reversals in society?
© 2010 by Daryl D. Green