Michigan got totally blasted by a slow-coming seismic shift away from low-skill, high-wage manufacturing jobs. Now, in the world of families, work and gender, America’s in the midst of a similarly slow seismic shift. Are we ready? Humans aren’t so good at even seeing such slow change-a-comin’. But awareness – which is arguably the most important word in leadership at home and at work – seems to be on the rise.
Last week I presented on a panel at the 2010 Families and Work Conference with Brad Harrington, who’s the Director of the Center for Work and Family at Boston College. We were discussing the shifts in men’s roles. We were considered experts, yet it was the first time either of us – who speak a lot – had addressed this topic. What does that tell you? The gender shifts are massive. The number of women who earn more than their husbands has gone from 1 in 25 (1970) to 1 in 4 (2007). And in the same time, we went from husbands having more degrees than their wives on a 3:2 ratio, to the opposite, 3 wives with more education for every 2 husbands who out-learned their wives.* Of course, educational attainment ties directly to employment status and income, which partly explains why 60% of the job loss in this recession has fallen on men (during one stretch it was 80%). Ouch!
Yeah! for women, who in three generations have blown the doors off to achievement in the economic and political realms. How great for them, their supportive men, economically benefitting families, and especially for society that can now tap 100% of its talent, instead of 50%. But what about men? And what about our children? This week I’ll be at the White House, where the First Parents will be hosting a forum on workplace flexibility. Every workplace should follow their lead and ask how we optimize flexibility. The old model of mom-at-home can be phenomenal for kids, but it’s just not the norm – not any more than men, shoulder-to-shoulder on the assembly line is the way we make cars. In a land of liberty where women want to work, and in a land of economic pressure where families need the income, two-parent and women-dominated families are here to stay.
I believe one of the most vital things we can do is encourage more Man Talk, so we men rise up to our liberation and we meet the huge needs of our kids. We need individual conversations about paternity leave, supporting high-achieving women, and about how to train our boys for a world that demands new levels of communication and collaboration at home as well as at work. Brothers, is this your Budweiser talk with your friends, or the front-seat conversation with your boys? And we need big public conversations about what it now means to be a great man, a gentleman, a strong man. We really need to figure out how our boys are to keep their confidence when these young women are outshining them. It’s astounding but in a generation and a half we have gone from girls being told not to look smarter than the boys, to some boys telling other boys that being an honors student is a girl-thing.
The last thing we need is a gender war. We need strategies to continue to grow great women, redefine great men, and truly figure out how to have our children get our best when it’s hard to figure out who does what any more, and when there’s less time to do it! For a beginning of the discussion men need to have, I invite you to tune in to the podcast of this past week’s radio show on “making work work,” where we explored shifting male roles. The guests were all-stars and the callers fascinating. (By the way college kids and their parents should tune in this week, Saturday 7-9 AM EST, for a show on what to do after college, especially in this tough environment.)
Let’s talk work place flexibility and home life creativity to
Lead with your best self,
* Richard Fry, D’Vera Cohn, “New Economics of Marriage: The Rise of Wives,” Pew Research Center, accessed at http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1466/economics-marriage-rise-of-wives?src=prc-latest&proj=peoplepress. It’s hard in a newsletter this short to present these educational attainment numbers with total accuracy. So, an explanatory note on the educational attainment comparisons: about half of all spouses have equal educational attainment levels, so the ratios I presented are only for the remaining half who have different levels of educational attainment.