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Women's Job Progress

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Mon Oct 08 2012

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Men’s participation in the U.S. labor force reached an all-time low in September. Only 80 percent of American men between the ages of 25 and 54 are working, compared to 96 percent in 1954, reflecting steady decreases in their skill and education levels. Men earn only 40 percent of bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Their median annual earnings have dropped by 28 percent over the past 40 years. Some of these changes are due to the decline of the manufacturing industry, the rise of services, and the blossoming of the information age.

Women, meanwhile, are gaining in earning power, and dominate 12 out of the 15 fastest-growing professions. A study by the National Federation of Independent Business found that women-owned small businesses outperformed male-owned small businesses during the last recession.

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Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men, argues that women’s adaptability – going back to college, pursuing new jobs – helps them get ahead, while men cling to old expectations. Some traits that are valuable in the information age, such as the ability to focus, to be emotionally sensitive, and be aware of context, are more likely to be found in women than in men.

Rosin likens women to immigrants in a new country who see a new social context and adapt to changing circumstances. Young women in particular, she notes, have abandoned feminist conceptions and approach work as a clean slate. The rise of women in the workforce signals “the beginning of a new era,” she writes.

Women’s rise in the workplace stops short of the executive suite and in tech companies, however. Women still hold very few top corporate jobs – only 20 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women - and only about 25 percent of technology jobs.

Google has been using data to figure out how to recruit and retain more women after losing some top women when the company reorganized in 2011. Only one-third of Google’s 34,300 employees are women, and data revealed that they were not being promoted at the same rate as men. Google employees can nominate themselves for promotions, but women were less likely to do so. In job interviews they don’t flaunt their achievements. These and other data discoveries led Google to make changes to its recruiting process, and more women are being hired.

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