Women Invade the Workforce

Our society is changing, and female workplace invaders may be reflective of the world around us.

There’s no doubt about it: Things aren’t what they used to be, and sometimes that’s a good thing.

Let’s consider women in the workplace. This fall, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the first time in US history, women have surpassed men in the economy, making up more than 50% of the workforce. This is a gradual change, considering that in 1967, women comprised just 33% of US workers.

There are lots of reasons why women work. The rising cost of everything—from housing to college education to the basics of fuel and food to raising a family—often necessitates more than one salary, especially in times of recession. Along with this comes the dramatic rise in the divorce rate to its present 50%, which requires that women be prepared to go it alone if necessary.

To face a changing world, women have taken a studied approach to job preparation. Women are outpacing men in terms of degrees, a trend that has been quietly growing in the US over the past few decades. For example, in 2009, women will earn more degrees in higher education than men in every category, from associate level through Ph.D., according to the US Department of Education. Even in areas where women have been typically absent, such as science and math, the milieu is changing. For instance, women now account for 30% of math Ph.D.s, up from just 5% in the 1960s.

To some, the rise of women creates a threat, as if work represents a competition of sorts. “Women really have become the dominant gender,” said Guy Garcia, author of The Decline of Men. His real concern is that guys are rapidly falling behind. Women are becoming better educated than men, earning more than men, and not really needing men at all, he fears. “Meanwhile, as a group, men are losing their way.”

Let’s go over some of the visible changes in the printing industry. Andy MacDougall tipped his hat to the women in this issue (see p. 32), noting that people of the female persuasion are now seen within the screen-printing world and can handle a press with the best of them. Though women always had the capability, now they’re given the job and are trusted with the responsibility—and perhaps that’s the part that has changed.
On the wall of my new house hangs a wonderful screen print of a whale done in the motif of the Pacific Northwest Indian culture. Andy MacDougall gave it to me at the SGIA Expo in New Orleans last October. In his shop, MacDougall has taught Indian artists make art prints from their drawings. He talked about the skill it took to make the print and the eagerness with which these students learned a new skill. He didn’t mention their gender and barely mentioned their evident heritage—just the joy in teaching those who are willing to learn his profession.

When I heard that Carly Fiorina, former CEO of HP, is now challenging Barbara Boxer’s senate seat in the State of California, I thought, “This should be interesting.” Fiorina successfully ran a major firm. Boxer has been US Senator since 1993, having previously served for 10 years in the House of Representatives. Boxer, chairwoman of the powerful US Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, will be a pugilistic opponent. Female Senate chairs aren’t as rare as they once were; however, they’re more underrepresented in the US than women CEOs.

Let’s face it, our society is changing, and female workplace invaders may be reflective of the world around us. The next step is to recognize that men are stepping up to new challenges as these appear as well. This may be the subject of the next good book on the battle of the sexes. The workforce and which sex is most representative is really not a competition, but rather a counterpoint that enriches the end results. From my vantage point, for every man that has taught me how to do my job better, I am thankful. Vive la différence!

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