By Tatiana Bailey, Ph.D.
As star consumers (my husband would call me a rock-star consumer), women are well poised to lead, partially because they are astute about products and services, which means they can tie together the spectrum of business information to help companies thrive.
A seminal 2007 study conducted by nonprofit Catalyst found that companies with the highest representation of women board members attain significantly higher financial performance than those with the lowest representation: 53 percent higher return on equity; 66 percent higher return on invested capital and 42 percent higher return on sales. The higher return on sales is not surprising considering 85 percent of all purchase decisions are made by women, which represents $7 trillion in spending.
Likewise, a 2010 study asked business executives globally what they believe the most important leadership attributes are for success today. For the top four critical success attributes — intellectual stimulation, inspiration, participatory decision-making and setting expectations/rewards — there were more female leaders stating these attributes than men.
I would take this one step further and say that a plethora of attributes are needed to build and maintain a successful business, higher educational institution or public entity and women can add a complementary dimension to that provided by men. I have seen that to be true many times in my professional career, which makes it that much more exciting when men and women alike within a community embrace female workers and leaders.
Massive increases in female labor participation rates represent a transformational societal change, and such change has drawbacks. There are the challenges of trying to balance child-rearing and career, single moms who struggle to support their families alone, and high child-care costs.
There is still a persistent wage gap as well: Women make 81 percent of what men make across all sectors.
There is clearly further room for improvement. Yet, communities that embrace female workers and leaders may be particularly well-positioned to ameliorate some of these inherent challenges. Women are helping to transform the workplace so that it is more family-friendly. Many are also choosing to start their own businesses.
Ambitious women who choose to work for themselves or start new businesses sometimes do so in part to tailor work demands to their home responsibilities. In the past decade the number of privately owned companies started by women in America has increased twice as fast as the number owned by men.
There is also incredible value in having the choice to not work and raise children. I worked part-time, primarily from home for many years while I was having my hockey team of children (you need five on the ice for a game). Not all mothers have that choice or that flexibility. I am feeling fortunate all the more so now that at a time when I have decided to work more, I have landed in a community that supports women in the workplace and embraces women in leadership.
In looking at labor force participation in Colorado Springs, it is important to note that it is not above the national average for female labor participation although some of that is likely explained by the military presence. Military wives are less likely to work than civilian wives.
It’s striking to me that Colorado Springs has many women in key, leadership roles. Hence, despite its reputation for being an “old boy network” kind of city, I have seen more strong, intelligent, motivated and forward-thinking women in Colorado Springs than I have anywhere else.
Even (granola) Ann Arbor, as I affectionately call it, doesn’t seem to have nearly the number of female leaders. Although solid data would mandate a large-scale survey of employers, many long-time Colorado Springs residents have also highlighted this observation to me.
Is it possible that some of Colorado Springs’ reputation as a male-dominated, closed, conservative community is undeserved? Perhaps it is welcoming and supportive of the brainpower that women can bring to the table across the various sectors of health care, government, higher education and the like? And perhaps many forward-thinking women and men care more about good results than they do about gender?
In case there is any doubt, this is not an angry feminist statement as much as it is a celebration. Even 30 years ago, women did not have the opportunities they do today.
This isn’t a statement that one work and leadership style is better than another. They are just different and according to the data, can be quite complementary. Especially with respect to female leadership, it seems to me that Colorado Springs has already figured this out.
(Editor’s note: This is the last of a two-part series on women’s increasing role in the workforce, nationally and locally.)
Tatiana Bailey is the director of the Southern Colorado Economic Forum.