Do Women's Brain Function Better in a Bad Economy
Some Experts Think So
By Roxanne Riviera
New York, NY (February 2010)—The recession has made 2009 a difficult year for many Americans. But has it affected men more negatively than women? Recent statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics might indicate as much. The BLS recently released statistics showing that 78 percent of jobs lost during the recession were held by men, and that women's wages have risen by 1.2 percent more than men's over the past two years.
These numbers have some calling the recent recession a "he-cession," while others point out that these numbers could be interpreted in a variety of ways. For example, more jobs may have been lost by men because many of the jobs that have been cut were in the manufacturing and construction industries. And women's wages may have risen at a faster rate, but most women are still making less than the men doing the same jobs as them.
Why might that be? Rivera points to a number of inherent qualities that may make women better suited to handle the challenges of the recession:
Women are used to stress. The reason women might be better at handling the stress that comes with the recession better than men is two-fold. First, many women, regardless of industry, work in "boys' club"-type environments. They are used to dealing with the added stress that comes with feeling like they have to constantly be working at a higher level than the men at their organizations. Secondly, women are used to multi-tasking. They know that their success is measured by others based on how well they juggle their work and home lives.
"Most women have learned how to deal with the stress that these scenarios create," says Rivera. "For example, women aren't afraid to express their emotions, either through a one-on-one pep talk with a friend or through a private cry. They are able to get their emotions out, find solutions, and move on. And while men might not necessarily be less emotional than women, there is a stigma that exists with men who show their emotions. Because of that stigma, many men keep their emotions hidden and as a result can't handle the recession stress quite as well as their female counterparts."
Women are not defined solely by their jobs. Men are ego-driven. They tend to measure their self-worth by how much money they are making, their ability to provide for their families, and their position at work. Women, however, define themselves by their relationships inside and outside work. They take into account the kind of work they are doing and how they are helping others. Because of this, women aren't taking as big of a hit to the ego as men, which is helping them keep their heads up during the recession.
"Though the dynamic is balancing out, for the most part, women are running America's households," says Rivera. "At the end of their work day, they also have to make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be, that dinner is on the table, that the bills are paid, and on and on. It is easier for them to assume a 'life goes on' mentality, because they have all of these other factors to deal with. Men, on the other hand, because they generally aren't worrying about all of these other factors at home, can get bogged down in the negatives they have to deal with at work."
Women build strong support networks. Throughout history, women have had to unite in order to gain equal footing with men both inside and outside the workplace. Because of this history, there are many networks and women's associations already in existence, places women know they can go for support and advice.
"Women have well-organized associations and other groups because we have to," says Rivera. "It provides the strength in numbers we need to ensure we keep making progress toward complete equality. These groups have been very beneficial in the recession because women know exactly where to go for advice and information. Outside of these groups and associations, women are also great at developing what I call a 'band of sisters.' We are very effective at providing one another with emotional, informational, and psychological support. Having other women we can call on for information, advice, or heart-to-heart conversations can be a huge benefit, not only to our careers but also to our emotional health, especially in stress-enhanced times like the recession."
Women are wired to do business by "relationship." Relationships are of increasing importance to just about every company. The ability to forge strong relationships with external stakeholders—suppliers and customers—while also helping those within the company learn and grow are much-desired skills. Because women tend to be more empathetic than men, building these strong relationships often comes easier to them. They can tap into a caring nature more easily than men, which helps them relate to clients and employees who are struggling during this recession.
"Women often are better than men at all these tasks," says Rivera. "In fact, I would argue that a woman's ability to empathize and use her instincts provides her with significant advantages during the recession. They can use these qualities to forge alliances with and strengthen their customer base. They can strengthen their relationships with their banker, their CPA, etc. Relationships are key right now. And women have adjusted to using their innate qualities to build and nurture these working relationships when it matters most."
Women have always been the underdog. In 2008, according to the BLS, women earned a median weekly salary that was 80 percent of what men earned. And while this pay inequality may be one reason that women have lost their jobs at a slower rate than men during the recession, it also gives them a kind of underdog status. Women are used to having to fight for what they deserve—inside and outside the workplace.
"Our position as the underdog helps us in other ways," says Rivera. "We tend to be able to improvise and change plans on a dime when we see that something isn't working. Women are very resourceful. If one path doesn't work out, we correct and take another. These qualities are essential when trying to adjust work and home lives to the recession."
Women are not afraid to tighten their belts. For companies the recession means reduced spending, and that can sometimes translate to pay cuts and benefit cuts for employees. Practices that tend to affect men more negatively (at least in an emotional sense) than women.
"I don't know if this is built into our DNA, but to me it seems that women, in general, are not afraid to cut back and tighten our belts," says Rivera. "Maybe it's because we are used to managing the household budget or shopping on a shoestring, but we can stretch a dime if we have to. Women do what needs to be done to get the job done—whether that means taking a pay cut or reducing how much is spent on groceries each week."
Women lead by consensus. Women are very good at delegating and managing teams. They use their emotional intelligence to motivate their employees and encourage teamwork when it matters most.
"Where men might take on an 'every man for himself' mentality during the recession, women will use their ability to lead by consensus to provide value to their organizations," says Rivera. "They involve their people in finding ways to cut costs, constantly remind them that they are important—a necessity when companies cannot offer raises or other rewards—and, in general, just try to be part of the solution.
"Because they are used to taking on many different tasks in order to prove themselves, women—even those in leadership roles—are not afraid to help with the grunt work. They stay late when their people have to stay late, and so on. By assuming these responsibilities, women can better manage the morale of their teams, a factor that helps keep their employees motivated and working hard to get their companies through the recession."
Women are not afraid to seek out advice. It might be a stereotype, but the idea that men won't stop and ask for directions when they are lost holds true during a recession. Women simply seem more willing to seek out advice during these economic hard times.
"Maybe it's because women are so used to turning to one another for support or maybe it's because they simply know that they will need the advice of others to get ahead in a 'man's' world, but by and large, women are not reluctant to seek out advice," says Rivera. "Women are collaborative. They are more willing to take a let's-get-through-this-together mentality than men might be. They don't look at needing help as a sign of weakness, as many men might. They look at it as an opportunity to improve."
Women know how to build the bench.Women make great mentors. They know how important it is to invest in others, especially during a down economy. "Women know that investing in their employees or direct reports does not mean paying them more or promising big bonuses in the future," says Rivera. "It means giving them the support they need, helping them find pride in their work, and giving them positive feedback and encouragement. All of these elements come together to help women build a strong bench—a team that is motivated to get the job done even when it takes more work for less reward. Bottom line: Women make great leaders. And that is really shining through during the recession."
"At the end of the day, I think the most important thing to take away from this recession is not whether men or women have fared better, but the fact that women have become an integral part of our economy," says Rivera. "Women now make up almost half of the workforce and earn nearly half of the household income. And according to the Center for Women's Business Research, women-owned businesses pump $3 trillion annually into the economy and employ 23 million people. I can't wait to see how women in all industries continue to grow and flourish as the economy improves."
# # #
About the Author:
Roxanne is the president and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors of New Mexico. She also serves as New Mexico's liaison to the National Associated Builders and Contractors in Washington, DC.
Roxanne has been working in the construction industry for decades. In 1981, using a personal savings of $1,200, Rivera co-founded a sole proprietorship construction service business and grew it to a $13 million company that incorporated in 1989. She oversaw all operations and up to 100 employees plus subcontractors in three offices throughout New Mexico. She wrote, marketed, and secured multi-million-dollar contracts in both the government and private sectors.
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