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What women want?

Zafar Anjum | June 2, 2009
Promotions, job security or work-life balance? What is it that matters to the female workers?

To get women out of the home was the easy part. The challenge is to make them stay on in the job.

Thats what governments and corporations are discovering in many parts of the world.

The question is, what is it that is making women jump the ship?

In our part of the world, turns out it is the perceived lack of opportunities and the lack of work-life balance that is making them take the exit route.

With women a minority in the upper echelons of companies in Singapore, nearly half feel that they will not reach a senior management position, said a report in Today, referring to a survey of women in finance and accounting sectors.

Add to that the desire for work-life balancethe priority for 59 per cent of the respondentsand that 53 per cent of the women will leave their jobs for one with lesser pay in order to achieve it, its a worrying insight for the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). Women make up 66 per cent of its 9,000 members.

They figures quoted in the report are from the Robert Half/ACCA survey.

I think it is not just ACCA that should be worried. From my past research into this subject matter, I can safely argue that the problems of perceived lack of opportunities and work-life balance plague most industries, including the IT sector.

What if…

What if the companies dont address the grouses of the female workforce?

The consequences will be pretty ugly. To illustrate the dangers, let me quote from a 2007 Gartner study, Women and Men in IT: Breaking through Sexual Stereotypes.

The research firm said that women with their superior communications and listening skills are better suited than men to navigate through the new economy and by including women in their IT teams, organisations can build stronger, better team dynamics which can translate into multiple tangible benefits for the business as a whole. These benefits can include greater employee satisfaction, increased productivity and innovation. (The IT Women, Express Computer)

These superior feminine traits dont just apply to the IT industry. Their relevance and application cuts across all spheres of business. Even politics. Thats why in her book, Why Women Should Rule the World, Dee Dee Myers formulates the gender difference in this way: Women are smart, principled, professional, cordialand just a bit dull. Men are conniving, crude, backbitingand lively.  

Which way is the balance tilting? Be honest.

The Achilles Heel

In a workplace (or market) situation, what women lack is competitionthis is what experts tell us (though I believe otherwiseremember Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton during the primaries against Barack Obama in the US presidential elections).

According to The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women, and the Real Gender Gap, by the Canadian psychologist Susan Pinker, when it comes to competition, females lose the advantage against men: Consider this startling study done with fourth-grade Israeli schoolchildren: when boys and girls each ran alone on a track, there was no measurable speed difference by gender. But when each child was teamed with another child and asked to run again, the boys ran faster and the girls ran slowerslowest of all when running against other girls! What females love is bonding, helping, sharing, and oxytocinthat opiatelike hormone dubbed by one anthropologist the elixir of contentment. Forget all this tedious racing: what girls would really like to do is carry each other around the tracktaking turns! (Should Women Rule?, The Atlantic)

I guess there are still enough men to take care of the competition in the marketplace. It would be a failure of organisations if they did not succeed in capitalising on womens insights, traits and skills. The post-modern workplace will be much the poorer without a sufficient number of women workers, including at the top.

Zafar Anjum is the online editor of MIS Asia portal.