What if women were in charge?

The Council on Contemporary Families has produced a mini-symposium on the Gender Revolution, titled, “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby.” Or Have You?. The keynote essay is by David Cotter, Joan Hermsen and Reeve Vanneman, and then a series of short essay follows.

The whole series is worth reading (they’re very short). Here is my contribution, with some references and suggestions linked:

What if women were in charge?

Few would deny there was a gender revolution in the world of management from the 1970s through the mid-1990s or so. Less remarked upon, but no less apparent, is the abrupt stall that followed. Was that progress for women a cause or consequence of gender equality in the workforce as a whole? It was both. And that means the stall spells trouble for future progress toward equality.

Research shows that women’s presence in management is beneficial not only for those who reach those positions of leadership, but for those they are charged with leading as well. Where women lead, workplaces are less gender segregated and less gender hierarchical. I don’t think that’s because women are inherently better or more egalitarian-minded as leaders and managers. But their experience, their perspective, and their behavior do diminish gender differentiation in workplace.

That’s not to say getting women to the top is more important than anti-discrimination enforcement or other government policies. But women entering management is part of what gave the gender revolution a boost. After more than doubling from 1970 to 1990 – from less than 15% to more than 30% – women have now climbed to just 38% of those employed full-time in management occupations. Further, those managerial women have median earnings that are just 73% of men’s (compared with 78% overall).*

Something happened on the way to (partially) integrating management: women started getting concentrated in very specific types of positions. You might not be surprised to learn that 94% of day care center managers are women. But less obviously, women now make up three-quarters of the mangers in the human resource offices of the banking industry, and the frontline management of nursing homes. Three-quarters isn’t integration: it’s ghettoization. At the very top of the corporate hierarchy, on the other hand, just 16% of Fortune 500 corporate board of director members are women (3% are women of color), as are only 14% of their CEOs. In heavy blue-collar industries managerial women remain nearly invisible.

For women’s stall we may lay considerable blame on the logjam in our family-related workplace rights and policies, which force too many women (and men) to choose between work and family commitments, culling ambitious women from leadership tracks.

The strong association between gender and jobs undermines future efforts to integrate workplaces. Segregation shapes our consciousness and expectations with regard to men’s and women’s roles, skills, and potential. And that limits the choices young people have to develop and exercise their ambitions in the world of work.

Thanks to Stephanie Coontz for including me in the symposium, and editing my essay.

*American Community Survey, 2010, table S2402.

11 thoughts on “What if women were in charge?

  1. When all the ambitious women head into leadership tracks, or become doctors and lawyers, what kind of women are left raising their children?


      1. Sure, we *can*, just like women *can* dig ditches.

        However, remember that h. sapiens is an animal, and there are deep genetic-hormonal reasons that in just about every other (all, maybe?) mammalian species it’s the female with primary care-giving responsibility while most males wander off or have subsidiary child-rearing roles. Thus, why should humans be that different?


      2. @ Ron

        “Thus, why should humans be that different?”
        We are greatly different in significant ways from all other mammals; we also show significant differences amongst us, between cultures and – importantly – between individuals.

        There’s no reason why men generally can’t have at least an equal share in childcare; this might surprise you, but there are quite a few who prefer taking an active role in caring for and raising their children, instead of wandering off or playing a more minor, subsidiary role (and in cases where men do wander off, the woman would have to both work and parent anyway). What people usually do is work things out amongst themselves, each couple coming up with solutions that fit them as individuals and as a couple.


  2. It occurred to me a couple of weeks ago: if women are in charge, society devolves in a massive organized crime wave!

    Logical progression:
    1) Women create the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement.
    2) Temperance fails, so they radicalize.
    3) After they radicalize, they convince the ruling women that it’s right to ban alcohol.
    4) The ruling women ban alcohol.
    5) Prohibition.
    6) Crime syndication.
    7) Floods of crime.
    8) Prohibitionists stand firm, saying all we need is more laws, cops, and jails.
    9) New jails don’t work; crime remains high.
    10) Society devolves.


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