Are American Women Breaking Up with “The Man?”

Recently, I was in a room full of 150 female entrepreneurs and the speaker, a 7-figured powerhouse asked, “how many of you have ever worked in the corporate sector?” About 148 hands raised. Then she asked, “How many of you would go back?” No one raised their hand. The room cheered in relief that they would never have to go back to the oppressive, diminishing corporate experience – “No More Working for The Man”, someone at my table commented.

I did not raise my hand.

I thrive in corporate structures. I like working for The Man. I also do not expect the organization (man) to fulfill my every career development need – Like any relationship, I meet my own career well-being happiness in partnership with “the man.” Someone once coached me in owning my own career at work to NOT wait for someone to bring me flowers, but plant my own garden. Prince Charming is not coming.

I started ThriveOn Seminars to help successful, professional women with emotional intelligence so that they can get their voice in the room to advance their career and increase well-being – and THRIVE within the corporation.

The corporate machine is a mere laboratory for building self-awareness and emotional intelligence in relationships with a diverse group of personalities. I think it is good for emotional and spiritual adult development, sometimes rewarding and sometimes challenging. Organizational life is engaging and exciting to learn the “relationship game” within a system, with rules, scoreboards, norms and behavioral protocols.

However, not all women feel this way. Many women are frustrated at the employee-employer relationship oppressed and constricted by the proverbial Man. This very term is said to describe oppression within a governing power structure. Today more than ever, women are breaking up with The Man to pursue greener pastures on their own. Between 2007 and 2016, the number of women-owned small businesses increased by 45%, compared to 9% among all start-up businesses.

Do we think it is ok for women to feel their only way to nourish and fulfil their true purpose is to leave the running of our American corporations to the men?  Men, wouldn’t work life be boring without women to provide a creative, collaborative spark? All human systems need both testosterone and estrogen to survive and with American women making up 85% of all consumer spending, the female point of view at the corporate table is critical.

However, here is the startling reality:

  • There are 73.5 million women in the workforce.
  • Women are continuing to leave the labor force – breaking up with the man in larger numbers every year.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics claims that 59.9% of women aged 16 and older were in the labor force in 2000. By 2010, that figure FELL to 58.6%, and at the end of 2015, to 56.7%.
  • The Gallup organization released the state of the American working woman interviewing more that 323,500 US adults and reported many women don’t want what businesses are offering them.
  • Fortune magazine reported that 126 women fell off Fortune’s Most Powerful Women list between 2000 and 2015.
  • Career advancement for women is slow with only 4.8%, of the CEO positions in the Fortune 500 being held by women

Even though many organizations spend millions of dollars on diversity efforts, many are falling short of a few key retention strategies to prevent this break up.

I Think We Should See Other People 

Many women are continuing to look over the fence to advance themselves by leaving one man to find a better one. According to Gallup, 48% of employed women are looking for a new position because their strengths are not being used at work. I have seen female colleagues get so frustrated not getting career advancement, that they leave for higher level positions in other corporations. I too experienced this phenomenon when being asked to travel, while trying to nurse an infant. I opted to move to another organization for a higher-level job, with no travel. Win/win for me, although it did come as a shock to my current employer of nine years.

I Just Need Some Space

Women’s loyalty to their family will guide career decisions. I turn down many recruiting connections because I am just not relocatable for the sake of my children’s stability with friends and schools. Even with digital tools and virtual teams, countless organizations with policies at the local level will still not allow virtual work flexibility. This management philosophy that “if I do not see you, you are not actually working” is from a 1960’s Mad Men episode. Gallup reported that women work less hours than men because of this inflexibility, which could also be contributing to the pay gap and race to the top.

I Am Just Not Feeling the Connection

According to Gallup, pay is not as important to a women’s employment choices, as much as purpose and relationships, particularly with their children. Organizations competing for talent are also competing with the 3-year-old and offering women a feeling of purpose and connection that competes with the oxytocin generated by raising children.  When purpose well-being is low at work, the competition of time will always be skewed towards the emotional connection at home. I know women who aspire to leadership roles, but do not put their name forward because of fear of the time demands of higher level positions taking them aways from the deep connections they want to foster with their children. Great organizations offer networks for mothers and support resources to balance family and career. Psychological turn-over is huge for women who sit back and wait to be asked to lead without the proper resources and support to balance the emotional rewards they feel at work and at home.

What Game Are We Playing, Anyway?

Time, money and purpose are not the only reason why women leave the man. Women leave because they often feel diminished in the American corporate culture that was created by hierarchical models & policies dating back to the 1950’s. Command and control was a popular leadership practice and as women flooded the corporation during in the 50’s and 60’s, collaborative styles of leading changed the game. Women tend to lead by talking and men tend to lead by action.

Even with leadership differences, men have had a much longer runway because they are still socialized around game theory starting in childhood. In my generation, boys played sports and girls played house. Men are more socialized to understand that “Its not personal, its business.” In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins writes about great (high performing) organizations having the appetite for rigorous debate – passionate verbal banter that can sometimes sound offensive to a more collaborative, feminine style. The empathetic style in most organizations is Suck it Up, and There is No Crying in Baseball. Organizations would go far in investing in on-boarding and mentoring practices that teach women necessary emotional intelligence skills to stay in the game. Sure, women can get a seat at the table, but if they do not know how to play the game, they are not going to stay at the table. 

Preventing the Break Up

Like any relationship, women want to feel valued, honored, cherished and treated equally within a partnership. Outdated organizational cultures do not always support women employees based on the values that they bring to the table. The employment loyalty contract is reciprocal under more empathetic, socially intelligent leadership, purposeful work, and support in a system encouraging work-life balance. This break up is less of a diversity issue, and more of a business issue. Women will flock to the organization who can figure out these key support strategies so that they do not have to take their estrogen elsewhere.

Sure, women are told they can have it all – they just can’t have it all at the same time.  This gap would make any woman want to say, “I’m leaving you. No hard feelings, let’s just be friends.”