History Is on Women's Side in the Workplace

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Amid all the statistics whirling around women and paid employment, Peggy Drexler steps back to spot history in the making during Women's History Month. The realities of the workplace, she says, favor women's further gains in leadership.

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Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's eNews.

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working womenBut there is an open question. As demand for female talent grows, will women want to surge to the top? If they do, what does that mean for family life as we have come to know it?

Listen to many women, and the conversation trends toward that improbable state of being called work-life balance.

For anybody who has tried to find, let alone maintain, that balance, time is the merciless variable. The ancient Egyptians measured daylight, twilight and darkness and came up with the idea of a 24-hour day. Nothing has changed since then.

Much discussion came in the wake of a recent Pew survey that showed 66 percent of employed mothers would rather work part time, while 80 percent of employed fathers wanted to work full time. Those on the traditional side of the gender-role divide saw nature's tug toward home and family. Others saw a call for employers to assist in work-life balance.

Women Figuring It Out

Getting less attention from the survey was the finding that 85 percent of mothers with jobs said they are "very happy" or "pretty happy." That was higher than the 80 percent figure for stay-at-home moms. So if the study is to believed, somewhere, somehow a lot of women are figuring this out--or at least making peace with it.

Working women are never going to have it all, at least not all at the same time, assuming there is even a working definition for what "all" actually means.

Although there is considerable room for improvement in shared responsibilities, I believe we are seeing a generational shift where the issues in balancing family and work no longer automatically default to women.

The third in a series of surveys from 2007 to 2009 by the London Business School on female leadership in Europe found balance is equally important to both men and women--especially those in their 20s. Young men do not assume any difference in the arc of their careers versus their wives, the study reported. Both expect to be actively involved in raising children.

Still, women expressed more concern about how to make the balance work. Without role models, they feel they will have to "self author" their lives. In other words, they plan to make it up as they go along.

While there is considerable uncertainty in this time of transformation in the balance of gender power, this much is clear: more women with more education and more independence are making more money than at any time in our history.

The changes that will bring to organizations and families should keep headline writers busy for years to come.

Peggy Drexler, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of psychology at Cornell University Medical College and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. She is the author of "Raising Boys Without Men" and her upcoming book is an exploratory study on fathers and daughters. She can be reached through her Web site:

For more information:


The Center for Women's Leadership:

"Fewer Mothers Prefer Full-time Work," Pew Research Center:

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