The Ascendancy of Women
Recently there has been a lot of media coverage on new views of women in the workplace and what is a good work/life balance. The 50th anniversary of the publication of “The Feminine Mystique” and the publication of “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook are primary triggers of this conversation. Another is Marissa Mayer taking the CEO job of Yahoo while pregnant and then setting up a nursery next to her office. These two dynamic executives are rare women in the male dominated world of Silicon Valley.
Sandberg is jump-starting an empowerment movement for women. Mayer is living by example. Both are extremely powerful, wealthy and ambitious women. This has been what they have had to defend in this gender discussion coursing through the media and culture zeitgeist. Women who are not powerful, wealthy or in control of a company are pushing back with arguments that are essentially of the “easy for you to say because you are rich and successful but most of us are not” type.
These conversations, writ large in current American culture are very healthy and part of the decades long process of gender equality in post-industrial society. They are however, part of a larger trend in the developed countries of the world, the ascendancy of women.
Think about a 50-year arc of time, from 1975 to 2025. We are about 75% of the way through this timeline. In 1975, feminism has moved into the workplace and all aspects of society. Walls were coming down, but most initial efforts smacked of tokenism. Gradually tokenism gave way to a slowly growing equality, with women gradually and consistently increased their numbers, power and influence in places formerly dominated almost exclusively by white men.
1975 was also the dynamic beginning of the Information Age. It was the evolution from the Industrial Age to the Information Age that also triggered and powered the movement toward gender equality. When America and the rest of the developed economies of the world started to move from industrial production and a production economy to information creation and a knowledge economy, strength as a quality became less important. This was always been one of the defining differences between men and women and for the millennia and centuries of the Agricultural Age and the Industrial Age had given men the upper hand in the workplace. Countries were created by wars that men fought.
So now we are 75% through this 50-year arc. It is clear to me that all of the gender equality that women have achieved in this first 75% will be duplicated in the last 25% of this timeline. We have entered the Shift Age and it is in this age that woman will truly gain full equality. To go even further, one of the significant social trends of this new age is this ascendancy of women.
In almost every developed country women now comprise 60% of college graduates, 53-57% of masters and professional degrees and are now even in the majority of doctorates. While the cost/value proposition of higher education is to be challenged today, all data suggests an extremely strong correlation of higher education to financial and professional success through life.
In addition the Millennial generation, now moving into prominence around the world have much less sexism in their thinking. This was the first generation raised by dual income families where both mom and dad worked. They have grown up in a world of believing in equal opportunity. All my interaction with this generation has shown me that there is much less of the traditional gender roles and instilled sexism than what existed when the Boomers and GenXers were their age.
So as women exceed men in higher education and a new generation takes it place in the world, the 12 years between now and 2025 will bring about as much change in gender roles as the 38 years since 1975 have brought.
The Shift Age will be looked back on by future historians as the age when all the gender roles -economically, culturally, socially and politically – that have existed for millennia will be fully and finally altered.
I have also posted a short video on this topic.