The future of women

In the mid-1990’s, I began to notice changes in the way business and society viewed the role of women.

I recall the story of Marilyn Carlson Nelson. Her dad wanted sons, but ended up with daughters. She was smart and studied economics at Smith and in France. She had trouble finding work, but landed a job at Paine Webber as an analyst. There was a condition. She had to sign her reports as M C Nelson. When she became pregnant, they moved her office and secretary to a separate entrance.

This was not unusual.

She finally became a Forbes 400 billionaire as chair of TGIF and the Radisson hotel chain.

I know of another situation where a Catholic nurse was dismissed from Villanova University because she married a Protestant. This was in 1968 and women did not demand their rights. Her husband threatened to sue the school if she was not reinstated. She was.

Neither of these stories were unusual for the times. But I began to see changes. More women went into engineering (then a route to management). And I saw a trend from mass production to mass customization, where consultation and cooperation supplanted top down hierarchical decision making.

In 2000, I was in Grand Rapids to give a speech and was interviewed by the Grand Rapids Press. Much of the interview was on the future of women in business.

I saw a world where business subcontracts, developed alliances and partnerships and used outside consultants. I knew that active participation was needed. No longer can you order people to work; you need their willing participation.

Women think differently than men. Most men have a top down management style; women, in general, are consultative. This is better given the manner in which business changes.

But part of this trend has to do with a younger generation, which is changing the leadership of society.

Are women better than men? In many cases yes. A McKinsey Report (about 2012) of Fortune 500 boards showed that companies with women on their Boards had a higher degree of organization, above average operating margins and higher valuations than Boards with no women.

I love a story that my friend Lance Secretan tells. A good man goes to heaven. He was sent to the third dimension. He was told to eat with spoons longer than his arms. He kept dropping his food and was starving. He was then sent to the fifth dimension. There the spoons were the same, but folks fed each other and no one went hungry.

This is the way we will work in the future.


One Response

  1. Interesting. I work in a male dominated business. As your blog states, I find I do consult and ask clients questions like, “ Do you like this or do you prefer that?’ Consulting if you will. One day a male colleague said to me, “You don’t ask them, just tell them”. While difficult for me, I will continue to work on that strategy.
    While women may have come a long way, we may still be gently pushed to the “male” way of doing things. We will keep plugging along.

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