Hanna Rosin's cover story "The End of Men" has created quite a stir (The Atlantic July/August 2010). Attention-grabbing title aside, Rosin makes the case that women surpassing men in the labor force and in academic achievement is the tidal wave that will finally change the dynamics of power between the genders and lead women to an exalted place of predominance.
But as Mark Twain would say, the reports of men's death are greatly exaggerated.
What Rosin misses is that this sea change of women's power in the marketplace of ideas is not "the end of men" but rather, the beginning of a transformation of traditional roles that will benefit men, women, families, communities -- everyone.
The bad news is that women really aren't ruling the world. As The White House Project showed in its Benchmarking Women's Leadership report, the glass ceiling is still firmly in place with the numbers of women in leadership stalling at 15-17% in most sectors. The United States ranks a scandalous 71st place among countries in terms of women's political representation, and as Rosin herself points out, there are but a handful of superstar female CEO's in the Fortune 500.
Furthermore, many women in this country and around the world are struggling for basic survival. More women live in poverty than men and they typically have more career interruptions, fewer benefits, lower pensions, pay, assets, and savings.
To overcome these challenges, we need to mobilize all our human resources and ingenuity if we are to move towards a revitalized economy and sustainable future.
Consequently, we need more diversity in leadership, and research, some of it cited by Rosin, bears this out. As the National Council for Research on Women showed in its Women in Fund Management report (A Road Map for Achieving Critical Mass -- and Why It Matters), women and men bring complementary and equally important approaches to risk-taking and decision-making and studies show a correlation between management diversity and economic returns. These findings echo Page and Hong's (University of Michigan) Diversity Theorem demonstrating that heterogeneous groups outperform homogeneous ones across the board.
But greater diversity is not a zero sum game: women's gains do not equal men's losses. That girls are progressing in school and now earn more college degrees does not mean that men have lost their ability to compete. We must, however, tackle soaring high school drop-out rates and provide quality education to boys as well as girls and address the needs of all learners.
As for changes on the home front, Rosin writes that there is "nothing essential" about Dad -- but how about the fact that Dad is now permitted to become a more nurturing and caring parent, and redefining masculinity enables him to play a greater care-giving role? This is not a loss, in fact, most men would call it a gain.
Recently released studies from Sweden illustrate how changing policies around paternity leave has changed how men view their roles as fathers. Other research by the Families and Work Institute have shown that young men today willingly want to play a more active part in child-rearing and are demanding more work:life balance.
NCRW, The White House Project, and other researchers are examining the issue of child care in the US and the policy reforms required to support working women and their families. But ultimately, it is up to policymakers to adopt needed reforms. And we believe that greater numbers of women in our legislatures will lead to these changes within our lifetimes.
Our evolving global economy is demanding new skills and roles for both men and women, the question is not whether the new era favors women over men but how each must adapt to new demands and realities.
As the recent primary elections indicated, in the next decade, women will increasingly come into positions of power and influence. But these breakthroughs should not be viewed as the end of men but rather as the beginning of a new era of innovation and possibility that combines the finest aspects of all our citizens, women and men, working together for a better future.
Is the Marlboro Man dead? Good riddance!
Originally published at The Huffington Post.
Marie C. Wilson is president of The White House Project (www.thewhitehouseproject.org) and author of Closing the Leadership Gap: Add Women, Change Everything (Penguin, 2008).
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