The recent media narrative around female empowerment still rages like a wild fire over the fact that there are not enough women in the C-suite, on Wall Street or getting venture capital out of Silicon Valley. To a globe-trotting professional, sandwiched between Baby Boomers and all those Gen X, Y and Zs, this narrative so rings of a poorly rehashed Female Empowerment Battle circa the 20th Century that I’m half expecting to see Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs pop up on a nearby tennis court. In fact most of the “advice” in the blogosphere and on broadcast media is so simplistic and puerile, it makes me want to pour myself an enormous martini and watch reruns of Mad Men – now that’s an honest portrayal of a bygone era brought to us by a bunch of talented female writers.
Those that encourage women to go to college, work or even work their way into coveted corner offices do not realize it yet, but they are looking in the rear view mirror. According to a 2012 sizzler by Hannah Rosin, The End of Men and the Rise of Women, the demographic changes of the last twenty years at both the high and low ends of the socio-economic ladder across the world, save the most backward countries, are so profound they all but doom the male dominated power structures that have been with us since the caveman and are gasping their last breath in the executive suites as the baby boomers retire. Men and women that do not recognize these changes will become extinct. Literally.
Women so dominate both the college and community college scene that they have put the fear of God in college administrators seeking some sort of gender balance. According to research in Rosin’s book, private colleges apparently now practice a kind of reverse affirmative action by turning away qualified girls and giving some spots to boys in order to keep a respectable ratio of male to female on campus. And it’s not just US college campuses where you can expect to see change. Even in deeply conservative and Confucian South Korea, it appears parents prefer to give birth to girls rather than boys. (I just about dropped my martini when I read that.) In fact, South Asia and rural China are the only hold outs in Asia preferring boys to girls.
This historic Tsunami of women populating our universities, entering the workforce in managerial roles (and government), will dominate the workforce in a way that has never been witnessed before since the beginning of mankind. They are dominating both because they will be better educated and because 21st Century business needs their skills more than ever. And that is why telling us girls to feel empowered by getting a job or the right kind of job or the right kind of ambition seems laughable if you genuinely understand anything about demographics and skill sets.
It would certainly be fashionable to blame the recent female empowerment drivel on the well-meaning but misinformed male editorial staff that dominates business media, but Sheryl Sandberg’s cringe worthy Lean In proves how little the “power women” of today understand the massive demographic changes that are afoot.
Lean In could have been truly instructive, i.e. how to empower; it could have been a sober analysis of what women have and have not done for one another in the C-suite over the last twenty years and offered recommendations. No doubt Sheryl has seen her share of female sociopaths clothed in leadership Prada. Or it could have been about what a female-values centric organization should look like by focusing on originality, flexibility, female strengths and entrepreneurship while teaching readers how to use the boys clubs tactically without becoming a slave to it.
But no, instead the limp Lean In whiffs of someone who carries around severe petite girl baggage. It exudes an overly simplistic Tony Robbins-esque “be all that you can” tone and really obvious “how to make friends and influence people” type of advice your mom might have given you during a car ride to the grocery store in the 1970’s. Notably bizarre – the anecdotal over-importance of being up at wee hours for conference calls to convince the boys you should be taken seriously (Mom called this common sense), without questioning if this structure is actually empowering for anyone seeking normal sleep patterns (it’s not). A book questioning the value of phone calls at 5 am is the kind of book a woman who is 5”8 would have written.
So what does speak to this Tsunami of female leadership about to hit the shores globally? I have a clue for you. I coach clients who are in their early 50s and they share a similar profile to Sheryl Sandberg in terms of professional success, except they are even more successful in terms of being business owners and partners in firms. They are making well within the top 1% of salaries worldwide, yet they do not feel nearly as empowered as they should. Why not? There are a few reasons, for example work-life balance. But the primary reason - they do not know how to invest their money, and it’s often in the millions. Specifically, they feel far too dependent on the advice of what they perceive as an opaque, Alpha Male dominated finance industry that does not understand their needs and always put its interests first – much like a bad lover.
Women of my generation and younger already know what these cohorts of women over 50 are just learning, that empowerment is not just about earning the money. If it was, Nigella Lawson’s ex-husband would never have put his hands to her neck without getting pummeled with her handbag. We are all earning money and soon enough the percentage of women as breadwinners will be the majority in developed countries. The great 21st century battle for empowerment for both men and women is all about work-life balance and independent money management skills.
Having the ability to invest the money that you earn, and create true long term financial stability completely independent of your “job”, may not be the ultimate salve for the over-worked female executive of the future but it will bring her the long term “peace of mind” that just a job or just a husband cannot possibly do.
This level of empowerment divorces the individual from depending only on what they earn, and extends their power to create wealth off the money that they earn. And for those that have vision, it will give them access to capital in order to build their own business or empire without being dependent on a venture capital sugar daddy to raise it for them.