News Column

Women's Skills Still Underused in the Marketplace

Dec 17, 2012

Jane Glenn Haas

female worker

Boys and girls are different - a self-evident fact we shouldn't need to restate, except sometimes people seem to forget it.

Like the employers who kept trying to stuff women into the same job box as men.

"It's not that women can't do a job; it's just that women have different qualities and bring different capabilities to the table," said Judy Rosener, professor emeritus at the University of California-Irvine's Paul Merage School of Business.

Still, since World War II, when women first left homes in large numbers for the job market, women have been judged on the same performance basis as men, she says.

The result has not only held women back, it has also kept some businesses from advancing, she insists.

Esther Danielson says she supposes that's true, but she never really thought about it.

"It didn't make any difference in my life," said Danielson, 88. The Huntington Beach, Calif., woman was an original "Rosie the Riveter," working on P47s during the war.

"It was just a job," she said. "My jobs weren't important."

But the "Rosie" daughters don't feel the same way. They keep demanding more opportunity from the workplace - and their daughters and granddaughters want even more.

Employers have been slow to recognize - and take advantage of - gender differences, Rosener said.

"Of course, women are different than men, and we didn't really acknowledge that until the women's movement (1960s). Still, today, 23 percent of the Fortune 500 companies do not have women on the board," said Rosener, a Newport Beach, Calif., resident.

Rosener has spent much of her career defining the way women work and the way women lead. Her 1990 paper on women and leadership, printed in the Harvard Business Review, remains the gold standard on the topic.

"Women managers," she wrote, "are succeeding not by adopting the traditional command-and-control leadership style, but by drawing on what is unique to their experience as women."

And that, says Shannon Ingram, is changing the face of business today.

Ingram is a Mission Viejo, Calif., resident who has held a variety of jobs in her 61 years, usually involving some form of public relations and communication. She has spent considerable time evaluating the legacy of boomers and the differences between the genders, as well as generations.

Her latest endeavor is a website, boomerreviews.com, which offers a soup-to-nuts lifestyle coverage for the 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1965. Launched in October, the site already draws 54,000 unique viewers.

The difference between the sexes is particularly visible in the job market, Ingram said.

"Men tend to approach work the same way they approach sports," she says. "They're competitive, but we're more emotional.

"It's much easier for a guy to come home, throw his keys and wallet on the hall table, put work behind him, grab a beer and tune in 'Monday Night Football.' Women come home and immediately concern themselves with what's for dinner, or dog food or cat food or something like that.

"It's not to say one is better than another. It's just genetics."

Ingram says the genetic differences make it easier for men to make judgments on the job while women take time to evaluate and review events and products.

"Men are hunters and women are nesters," says Ingram, summing up the differences.

And she notes that men are reluctant to question the status quo.

"I think that's why my husband, Gary, is our most popular columnist," she says. "His column, 'Chief of Questions,' asks a lot of the questions guys want to ask but are afraid to bring to the surface."

And what does all this chatter about the differences between men and women mean in the workplace?

"It means we approach our jobs differently, and employers who know this and utilize our different potentials get the best results," Ingram says.

Maybe, Danielson says. But she doesn't see herself as breaking any workplace barriers in the 1940s. She just did her job.

For this "Rosie," a woman's workplace role was best summed up in a World War II number sung by British star Gracie Fields:

I'm the girl that makes the thing

That drills the hole that holds the ring

That drives the rod that turns the knob

That works the thing-ummy bob.

It's a ticklish sort of a job making a thing for a thing-ummy bob

Especially when you don't know what it's for.

But it's the girl that makes the thing that drills the hole

That holds the spring that works the thing-ummy bob

That makes the engines roar.

And it's the girl that makes the thing that holds the oil

That oils the ring that works the thing-ummybob

That's going to win the war.



Source: (c)2012 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.