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Working Women and the Recession

The Prospects for Success for Women in the Workforce in 2010

A small statistic made big workplace news in 2009: For the first time in US history, women edged out men to become the majority of the workforce. Crossing the 50 percent threshold is partly due to the current recession's patterns, but it gives working women a fresh starting point from which to map out a strategy for growing and succeeding in their jobs in 2010.

Women’s Edge in the Recession Workplace

Working women overall fared better than men this recession. In 2009, the jobless rate for women approached nearly 8 percent, while men suffered 10.5 percent unemployment. Due to the falloff in male-dominated industries like construction and manufacturing, men held a whopping three quarters of the 7 million jobs shed since 2007.

The jobless rate among women with a high-school diploma rose to 8.6 percent (versus 11.1 percent of men), while their college-educated coworkers held steady at 4.9 percent (versus 5 percent of men). Traditional careers for women -- so-called "pink-collar" jobs, like teaching, nursing and social work -- flourished compared to other occupations in 2009.

Careers for Women That Are Here to Stay

As a practical matter, does the fact that they now represent the majority of the workforce make a genuine difference to women? “I think it makes an enormous difference on many levels,” says Kathy Caprino of Ellia Communications, a career coaching firm in Wilton, Connecticut, that focuses on women. “We believe what we see, so when we see more women in the workforce, it opens the pathway for those who maybe didn’t think they had it in them. It’s not a flash in the pan. It’s a trend that will continue.”

When the economy rebounds, look for working women to maintain the ground they’ve gained. Sure, women’s World War II–era workforce gains receded once the war ended. But Brad Harrington, executive director of Boston College’s Center for Work and Family, sees too many different social forces at play in 2010, including the ascendancy of dual-income families as the norm.

“I don’t think anyone believes an influx of men will step into the workforce and women step out,” says Harrington. “This shift has been underway for too long.”

More important than women’s sheer numbers in the workforce are the levels of education they’re attaining. Harrington points out that in the US, women now earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 58 percent of master’s degrees. “We’re now at the point where women are performing better in numbers and in quality than men are,” he says. “When companies go to colleges to recruit, if they’re trying to recruit the best people, the top candidates are going to be women.”

How Working Women Can Grow and Succeed in the 2010

Women in the workforce can indeed capitalize on opportunities to advance their careers. “The next step is taking that success and truly making inroads into senior ranks in organizations,” says Cali Williams Yost of Work+Life Fit Inc. in Madison, New Jersey.

Try these suggestions for how women can reshape their opportunities as the job market improves:

  • To stay afloat in this economy, you will likely have to make accommodations. Take half an hour to answer the question: What’s an ideal life for me? This is the first question to ask yourself, advises Caprino. “If you’re doing work for people you don’t value, for products you don’t value, you won’t be successful.” Focus on what you really want -- it may not be with your current employer.
     
  • Career advancement means educating yourself, on and off the job. Seek out management development classes. If you work in marketing but really want to work in HR, then ask. “You have to close that power gap,” says Caprino. If you’re not where you want to be, sign up for the training or skills you need to get there.
     
  • To amp up your opportunities, research what it means to succeed in your job and industry. Create an active network and talk to people. Research what you want to do and what it will take to get there.
     
  • Enlist support. Role models and mentors are always necessary.
     
  • Understand social media and use it to promote yourself. “Women in the workforce really need to educate themselves about the power of social media and creating their brand online,” says Yost. “If you’re a money manager, for example, put up a blog on it and include links to interesting articles. Twitter about it. Put up a Facebook page. Employers are going to Google your name, and if you don’t show up, you don’t exist.”