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Women: a growing force in the business world

by steve churmPublished: March 01, 2012

As American business slowly lumbers forward from the depths of the devastating global recession, there is no shortage of economists and sociologists offering opinions about the lasting impact of this prolonged financial fall. Interestingly, women have emerged in remarkable shape, particularly in the workplace.
In fact, in 2010, for the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce tipped toward women, who now hold a majority of the nation’s jobs. Moreover, almost 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees and more than half of the master’s and Ph.D.s were earned by women. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are occupied primarily by women.
The large-scale inclusion of women into all levels of the economy has had positive consequences in the U.S. The Atlantic magazine, in a cover story last year about the rise of women in the workforce, observed: “As thinking and communicating have come to eclipse physical strength and stamina as the keys to economic success, those societies that take advantage of the talents of all of their adults, not just half of them, have pulled away from the rest. With few exceptions, the greater the power of women, the greater the country’s economic success.”
The sectors hit hardest by the recession were overwhelmingly male: Two-thirds of the 11 million jobs lost were lost by men. Since December 2007, men have lost 7.4 million jobs, whereas women have lost 3.9 million jobs. Compounding the challenge for men is their general unwillingness to adapt quickly to the post-industrial economy. Nursing schools, for example, have tried to recruit more men in the past few years with minimal success.
Statistics show that it is not just traditional professions like nursing where females are excelling. The U.S. Bureau of Statistics reports that a majority of middle managers are now women, up from 26 percent in 1980. Women also occupy 54 percent of all accountant positions, about half of all banking and insurance jobs, a third of all physician positions and 45 percent of all attorneys in law firms.
And it is not just in the U.S. The attributes that are most valuable in today’s economy – social intelligence, open communication and the ability to listen, focus and deliver on task – are resulting in advances for women globally. Women in poor parts of India are learning English faster than men to meet the demands of new global call centers. In China, women own more than 40 percent of private businesses and have embraced the red Ferrari as the status symbol for female entrepreneurs. And, in Iceland, the relatively new female prime minister has vowed to end the “age of testosterone” that she says destroyed the nation’s banking system.
These profound shifts in the workforce underscore the importance of the 2012 20 Women to Watch cover story. Each of these individuals in law, education, healthcare, government, banking and philanthropy are part of a growing wave of women who are making an impact on the regional landscape. They are not the only ones, but they are representative of what makes O.C.’s workplaces dynamic and promising.