For about a week, I’ve been struggling to know what to think or write about the news that women now make up more than 50% of the U.S. workforce. Most of the press reports have pointed out that the industries where women dominate are the ones that are growing. But I think it’s more than just that.
This iconic NYT piece called “Men’s Lib!” explained in great detail how women have been making inroads faster into male-dominated industries, while men are put off from making the same inroads into female-dominated industries. (Per the social implications of men doing jobs like “nursing,” remember: Last year there were new stories about how men feared recycling might make them seem “gay.”)
I think another factor is the shrinking middle class in America and the decrease in opportunities in “male” industries like manufacturing. Many women don’t have the option not to work.
But I can’t see the news as all good. As we saw in the racial aftermath of America electing its first black president, the ugliest sides of bias and bigotry tend to flame up in response to progress. We live in a country where 40% of Americans think it’s “bad for society” if women work, according to Pew. You combine that entrenched judgement with the sense of dislocation that women are “taking” men’s jobs and things are likely to get uglier before they get more equal.
Witness another headline we included last week about the fate of women in Japan: More women are working than ever before, but demographers predict that up to 50% of Japanese women will be in poverty by old age. It’s the types of jobs, and equal pay and opportunity for advancement, that matter as much as the sheer percentages of women in the workforce.
Ultimately, this news is what women will do with it from now on. Will we stand together? Frustratingly, I know so many women who talk a great game about supporting other women, but continue to mostly hire and support and fund men who fit the pattern of “leadership.” I know I am extraordinarily lucky to be part of that 2% of entrepreneurs who raise millions in venture capital and also happen to be a woman. But the sad truth is the lion share of the money I’ve raised across several startups has all come from men. I get more “no’s” from women than men, proportionately speaking. Getting hit on both sides is devastating when you are fighting to create new patterns in an industry. From the women, it definitely feels like more of a betrayal.
That said, there is data that shows that the more women at C-level offices and the more women in venture roles and the more women on boards, the more the “queen bee” phenomenon falls away. More women in these roles beget more women in the roles and a greater will to push for true equality. Note countries like Iceland that have far more extreme policies towards achieving equality, despite being one of the best countries for women in the world, economically speaking.
As Greta Gerwin said in this interview, despite her atrocious snub at an Oscar nomination, “I think the thing that changes the narrative are sheer numbers. And the numbers are all moving in the right direction. According to the Annenberg study, this year is better than any other year. So you want to see the work acknowledged on the largest stage possible, and there is so much beautiful work done by female writers, producers, directors, creators. But in terms of it all moving in the right direction, that’s all we can do: continue to make the work, make the work, make the work.”
And continue to support the work.
It’s not that the numbers don’t matter and don’t have an impact. But the numbers alone won’t do it either. We have to band together, support women economically and force change bit by bit.
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:
- How do you handle it when women in positions of power are the ones keeping other women down?
- At what age did you start giving your kids real autonomy?
- How to handle supervisor who has accused me of acting superior