Some data do suggest that females are increasingly opting out of the workforce before breaking in to the upper ranks. Assuming that fact is a real trend, here’s what you need to know.
This will most certainly be a short-term blip in the rise of women at work. I don’t know how long the blip will last, but you can bet it’s less than a decade. In the long run, women (and minorities) will dominate the workforce – including the upper ranks. The numbers simply dictate this outcome. There will be over fifty million baby boomers retiring in the next 20–30 years. So, even if the percentage of women opting out goes up a bit they will still dominate due to their aggregate numbers. Oh by the way, this is good news for companies: research clearly suggests that women make great leaders – maybe even superior to men (to get started, see Are Women Better Leaders than Men? By Zenger and Folkman).
Long-term the trend of women opting out before reaching the top will actually help women:
First, during the few years this trend persists, the men in charge (be clear: men still represent a huge majority at the most senior levels) will continue to not understand a massive part of their workforce. They will make erroneous assumptions about women not being tough enough, women being too emotional, women posing a threat to leave in order to care for their family, and so on.
They will make erroneous assumptions about women not being tough enough
Next, predictably and justifiably, the resentment women feel will grow. Thanks to our 24×7 news culture and the Internet, women are more aware than ever of their position in the working world. The pay gap persists. Even if you buy into the line of thinking that explains away the pay gap, the representation numbers are undeniable. The higher you go, the fewer women you see. Resentment shall grow.
Finally, at the same time the Boomers are beginning to retire, we also see a persistent trend in the number of women in the workforce and the number of women graduating college. In both cases, women are leading and most experts see these trends continuing.
Predictably and justifiably, the resentment women feel will grow.
When you look at all of this together, you see that we are watching a pressure cooker that is about to explode. We are nearing the proverbial tipping point. When the cooker explodes, diversity and inclusion programs won’t matter at all. In a few short years, parity will emerge, and in many cases – men will be a minority in the leadership ranks. Throw in the clear data about stay-at-home dads (thanks to a difficult economy and changing social norms), and the writing is on the wall.
When the cooker explodes, diversity and inclusion programs won’t matter at all
After the tipping point when serious numbers of females being to join the senior ranks, you’ll then see a real push for innovations that supports working women: more flexible senior roles, more creative job sharing at senior levels, increased use of remote work for C-level executives, more onsite daycare options, and many other new and improved ways to facilitate both work life and family life.
So ladies, please consider staying! There are many reasons to believe that you’re about to be offered more advancement opportunities than you can imagine. Opting out to care for your family or to chase other passions is extremely admirable. Building great teams and companies capable of supporting many families and communities, also admirable. Just saying.
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