Women play a much larger part in the European economy than twenty years ago. The development is both almost unnoticeable and swift. In the Netherlands, women now have the majority in the judiciary, and not merely in traditional sectors like family law; female GP’s are, or shortly will be, in the majority. Among senior magistrates and medical professors, males still dominate. Likewise among school directors. But why would one move papers from the ministry and control one’s colleagues, if one’s passion is lawmaking or teaching? More than men, women are intrinsically motivated by their job’s content; and from that perspective, women control the key positions in our society.
Women take a different view on their work. According to literature, females are better at long-term views, are good organisers, and value better a good atmosphere. They tend to be more practical in the execution of decisions, and are more susceptible to appreciate input from their co-workers. They have a focus on the well-being of the company or organisation as a whole. If they cooperate, they would therefore be more powerful than the male at the top. Research, e.g. from McKinsey, shows that companies perform better if the top is well-balanced in males and females. The researchers suggest that decisions are better reflected upon, and more balanced, if management is more diverse. Women are supposed to appreciate better the customer’s needs. A more diverse makeup of teams would enhance creativity and innovation.
But the most surprising part of it all is that women tend to define their economic participation in a totally different way: preferably part-time. Mothers combine work and family, and even single women often do not work full-time, in order to have a social life. Across Europe, the number of part-time workers is on the rise, the majority of them women: in 2010, 32% of females worked part-time, as opposed to 9% of working males. North-western Europe takes the lead in this (in the Netherlands, almost half of the workforce is part-time; in the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Austria just over one quarter; Eurostat figures).
Many economists take a sceptical view of this. According to them, we need a better labour participation in order to cover expenses of the welfare state and an ageing population. Moreover, part-time work does not fit nicely into a world in which top jobs require full-time participation, and more than that. Part-time work will not break the glass ceiling for women. And indeed: there are relatively few females in European top positions, part-time working Holland has a particularly bad score in this. In the sub top and in controlling positions which do not require full-time presence, there is an increasing number of females, but at the top the grey suits continue to dominate. And not invariably successful.
But we can take a completely different view on this. We can look upon it as a token of increasing self-confidence of European women, a process in which North-western Europe apparently takes the lead. Females do not copy male patterns but take their own views. And if power should be criterion, would women be indeed devoid of it? If they would cooperate, they would exert a power unheard of. Women’s networks are the nucleus of tomorrow’s organisations. But both men and women will have to overcome traditional patterns which hamper the build-up of the new organisational culture. With men, competition colours the traditional behaviour, with women it is jealousy. If only women could learn to work together better, they would be able to change the world.
We can fully trust that women are going to make a difference in the workplace, in view of the particular course that they take in their participation in the economy. If only males would take the same course as their female counterparts, this could lead to a better balanced society than the wild-west economy in which we often appear to live nowadays.
This article consists of the following paragraphs:
Does the future look grim?
Trend 1. Women will take the lead
Trend 2. Organisations will be founded on trust
Trend 3. New social networks are on the rise
Trend 4. Sustainability as a common goal
Trend 5. Decentralisation of industry in a biobased society
Trend 6. Small-scale energy systems
Trend 7. Europe was, is and will remain one of the most important producers of scientific knowledge in the world
Conclusion: think global, act local