Thursday, August 30, 2012

What Does 'Choice' Mean?

Why are today’s women so vocal about the “challenges” of having families and having careers?

Let’s look at the “choices” women have made over time regarding children.  The following data is drawn from Census and World Bank statistics.

Total fertility rate is the number of children born to women aged 14 to 49 years. 

Before the Civil War, women averaged almost 4.8 children each during their child-bearing years.  That rate dropped to just over 3.0 in the Post-Civil War period, then dropped further to almost replacement levels (2.0) at the turn of the century.  It leaped again during the Great Recession, and then fell to 1.96 in the period between World War II and the start of the Korean War.

Looking at annual data for the first part of the 20th Century, fertility bottomed out during the Great Depression, then rose
with the surge in post war industrialism. As more opportunities arose for women to enter the workplace, fertility rates declined and again approached replacement levels. More women “chose” to have careers or fewer children on average.

The annual fertility rate in the modern era shows selected peaks up to 2.1 in 1990 – 1991, 2000, and 2005, dropping to 1.8 from 1981 through 1987.

Fertility increased again from 1988 to 1993 and remained relatively steady at replacement levels (2.0) throughout most of the 1990s and the 2000s. As of 2010 and 2011, the US is at the lowest levels of fertility in 23 years (1.9).

Different factors contribute to the decision to have children and to have more or fewer children.

The number of jobs available in the marketplace will entice women into the workforce if the supply of jobs is large and the wage rates favorable.  When markets contract, women have greater difficulty finding work or well-paying work and many prefer to stay at home. If the recession is too severe, births will decline as incomes decline and uncertainty rises.

When recessions do hit, companies tend to under-invest in employees, leaving those who remain with much more than their share of the workload at much less the compensation than during better times.  No doubt, women who are in the workforce in these circumstances are hesitate to rock the boat and lose the job.

 “Average” fertility data includes families of different sizes. When there are large influxes in the number of immigrant families, from nations with higher average family size, then the US “average” may be skewed upward. Traditional US families may be smaller, and now may be in the minority.

In the current marketplace, the estimated total cost to raise “the average” child is $300,000.  The estimate total cost to send an “average” child through college today is another $200,000.  The investment required to support children today certainly will influence “choice” decisions: whether to have children and how many children.

Some factors are clear.  Modern women have it much better than their great grandmothers of the 1880s.  Having “just two children” to tend while pursuing a career - even in difficult times - doesn’t seem as overwhelming a challenge as having “almost 5 children” – with or without a job.

Today’s women are much better educated, but it might be that mothers today have little practical training in “home economics” other than what they read in Women’s Magazines.  Having the advice of mothers and grandmothers who stayed at home probably provided powerful benefits for our older sisters, if not also for our mother.  Today, that apprenticeship doesn’t exist as in the past.  Modern women have to tap the Internet for the wisdom they seek.

Today’s women and mothers, generally, have a much better partnership opportunity in the husbands of today.  Sure, slackers persist, but overall today’s sons and husbands have been trained to perform at peer levels.  Certainly, that is true in comparison to any father/husband before the 1960s. 

Then, too, women today have paid maternity leave, plus many more grocery, dining, and support service options that are unparalleled and are growing rapidly in our economy. And women-owned/co-owned businesses represent one of the fast growing sectors of our modern economy. 

So, it would seem women today have many choices, many more than their predecessors.  Perhaps what women might do, today, is be sure that they value the choices they have.  We’d hate to see them lose any of them.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

More Real Problem Solvers

Rather than complain, the following innovative entrepreneurs have developed real world solutions to address finite, concrete challenges that exist in our modern workplaces:

MomCorps – flexible staffing solutions
Flexible Work Solutions – ditto
TaskRabbit – specific short term jobs
DreamDinner and Dinner’s Done – businesses where someone else prepares the means for in-home eating
Virtual Distance Institute – how to diagnose and address challenges in “distance work” relationships

If I can find these, can you imagine what a whole class of academicians might find if they would simply put their minds to searching for solutions instead of crying about their problems?

Fundamental Differences

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, USC Price School of Public Policy Family and Career, wrote an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times on August 21, 2012, Women in academia lose faith in having it all.

She led off with the usual, “We need to find ways to make serious careers and family feasible for women from the outset, not just focus on helping women manage the conflict deeper into their careers.

First, let’s recognize the difference between a typical female approach to “the problem” compared with a typical male approach. Notice how she points out a problem that (according to her and her surveyed women in academia) belongs to ALL OF US!  Sorry, girls, but it’s not EVERYONE’S problem – it’s YOUR problem. If it’s important to you, then you’ll find THE OTHERS who constitute the same marketplace of customers, you’ll evaluate with them the true nature of YOUR problem, and then YOU will devise alternative solutions to YOUR problem. Maybe the reason these problems continue to fester is that you keep expecting others to take ownership of your problem and somehow fix life for you. 

Second, let’s recognize how WELL the problem has been defined.  According to this article, the problem is HOW TO “make serious careers and family feasible for women from the outset.” In other words, how to make life perfect for women, right?  Come on, get real will you?  Define the problem at least in terms that mere mortals could possibly address. Where on earth do we see anyone define real world problems in this scale and dimension?  How to make them SERIOUS?  How to make them FEASIBLE?  Could you possible be slightly more specific?

But, third, this article and the propensity to survey little girls in the very beginning of their careers ignore all of the research developed to date addressing the underlying issues and the many the significant efforts made by accomplished women (including women in academia) to develop real world solutions to really well-defined problems.

But, as the old saying goes, if the horse doesn’t want to drink, you can put all the water in the world in front of it – it still won’t be satisfied. If the little girls insist on never trying, never searching, then they will never find the solutions that hundreds if not thousands of accomplished women have forged on their behalf.

So, fourth, lets look at some of the many accomplished women who HAVE and ARE “finding ways” to accomplish well-defined goals and objectives in this space.

Journals and articles are overloaded with surveys of little girls in college with no professional experience who believe categorically they are able to forecast with certainty their abject failure as a parent and a professional, long before they even tried to get into the professional world and make change happen.  If women quit careers just because of other little girl articles they read in Cosmo or Elle, how on earth will they ever go on to make substantive change happen?

1.         To demonstrate how really horrible women were at predicting their future, let’s look, specifically, at “Off-Ramps and On-Ramps Revisited,” research by Hewlett, Sherbin, and Forster comparing 2004 and 2009 surveys of Harvard Business School women graduates.

Of the 100% of women surveyed in the workforce, 31% said they off-ramped on average by 2.7 years after graduation from HBS.  Of those 31%, 40% re-entered the workforce and found full-time employment. Another 23% of the off-ramp workers re-entered and found part time employment.  And 7% of the off-ramp workers re-entered as self-employed. 

Did everyone “do the math?” Fully 69% of the total stayed the course, 12.7% re-entered as FT, 7.1% re-entered as PT, and 2.2% re-entered as self-employed.  Combining those percentages gives us 90.7% out of a total of 100% who ultimately returned to the workforce in one form or another, while only 9.3% of the total surveyed quit.

Who else has made this caliber of change happen for women in academia?

2.               Lotte Bailyn at MIT, followed by women leaders at MIT

Academic Careers and Gender Equity: Lessons Learned from MIT by Lotte Bailyn, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts in Gender, Work and Organization. Vol. 10 No. 2 March 2003

3.         Myra Hart at Harvard Business School

4.               Jacqueline Barton at Cal Tech

See her chapter in my book, Women Leaders at Work: Untold Tales of Women Achieving Their Ambitions (Apress: 2011) 

5.               Elga Wasserman, author of The Door in the Dream: Conversations with Eminent Women in Science

6.         Sheryl Sandberg in several video clips advising women not to give up before they have even tried.

7.         All the women of achievement described in

Maybe it’s time for women to “Take the ‘stance of an agent rather than a victim.’” (Tempered Radicals: How People Use Difference To Inspire Change at Work by Debra E. Meyerson (Harvard Business School Press: 2001)

We ARE finding ways.  We HAVE women who are leading the way. But, if little girls insist only on writing “the kvetch,” “the whine,” and “the opt-out articles” of the 70’s and the 80’s, they will miss all of the talent and lessons that today’s outstanding women have to tell them and their peer female students.

You have a choice: you can repeat the little girl myths or you can write about the work and accomplishments of any of these incredible women. Just recognize that, by choosing the former, you are perpetuating the hype and myth that male editors want you to write about how wonderful it would be if all the women simply stayed at home, barefoot, pregnant, in the kitchen, pandering to the every whim of marketers and their ilk.

Sketchbook and OpenForum

Two very important sources of information about entrepreneurs, and women business-owners in particular, came to my attention recently.  First is the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Sketchbook series (

All the videos from their research are worth viewing to learn why entrepreneurship is important to the economy.  Even more important is the one sketch featuring Alicia Robb, Senior Research Fellow, Kauffman Foundation, and co-author with Susan Coleman of A Rising Tide: Financing Strategies for Women-Owned Firms.(Stanford University Press: 2012) See:

The book and sketchbook are important because they highlight the “differences” that explain why women-owned businesses may be in such great numbers, and increasingly so, but are low revenue-generating, low employer based firms, low capital attracting, and therefore low growth. These have been “universal truths” for a long time, but this is one of the first substantive research efforts covering women entrepreneurial “lifecycles” to explain what’s happening.

The second source of information is the latest research from American Express OPEN, The State of Women-Owned Businesses Report: A Summary of Important Trends, 1997–2012.

Like the Kauffman Foundation research, the OpenForum report presents evidence of the realities rather than the myths of women-owned businesses. 

While growth rates of women-owned businesses are rapid, it is not impressive that Wyoming is the heart of that growth. National, geographic, industry trends and differences between women-owned or co-owned or male-owned businesses present dramatically different patterns that must be understood as fundamental to whether or not these entrepreneurs are growth-oriented, investable, or are simply the proverbial “lifestyle” or “pink collar” businesses women enter when they have nothing else better to do.

The OpenForum reports, for the first time, give us opportunity to hone down on metropolitan markets, on size of business, on industry sectors of opportunity for investment and growth. 

Women entrepreneurs need to read both of these studies in order to substitute the “breathless” enthusiasm of all things female – just because we are female – and begin to focus instead on the crucial elements of successful business planning, presentation, team building, revenue-generation, and attracting capital for growth-oriented, scalable business enterprises that really WILL drive our economy.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Grant Thornton’s Wake Up Call for America

In November 2009, David Weild and Edward Kim of accounting firm Grant Thornton issued a “Wake Up Call for America.”  (See:

Apparently, America hit the snooze button and went back to sleep.

The report, from GT’s Capital Series, focused on the risks associated with American companies de-listing from major public exchanges and also not generating new domestic company listing.  US companies were going to overseas alternative exchanges. Every major global exchange did better than the US.

On top of that, US IPOs were not replenishing the pipeline. As a consequence, US jobs and economic wealth was disappearing.  What they also failed to mention is the loss of public company executive career positions and corporate director opportunities.

The World Bank data confirms their message, as shown in the chart and table, below.

From the peak of 1997, with 8,851 US exchange-listed companies, we are now at 4,171 US exchange-listed firms at year end 2011, representing a loss of 4,680 top tier companies.  At an average of 6 executives per firm, that is more than 28,000 CX-level career opportunities lost. At an average of between 8 to 10 corporate directors per firm, that means 37,440 to 46,800 public company director positions disappeared

Weild and Kim estimated that the U.S. would need 360 new IPO listings a year “merely to maintain a steady number of listed companies in the U.S.” The U.S. has not seen that level of IPO activity since the dot-com boom of 2000.

# IPOs

And it looks as if the IPO draught is continuing in 2012, according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ quarterly IPO venture capital reports. 

In May 2012, the Economist “woke up” and smelled the decaying US corporations in “The endangered public company: The big engine that couldn’t” (See:  Countervailing trends mentioned included: growth in private equity firms, partnerships, and state-authorized B (Benefit) corporations.  The primary motivator for alternative investment forms was the ability to “not disclose” – as contrasted with the drive for greater transparency at public companies.

The Economist raised the right question, though: “Can the private-equity industry function properly if private investors cannot easily cash out through IPOs?” 

The US Treasury’s IPO Task Force released a study surveying the challenges facing, especially, smaller companies on October 20, 2011 (“Rebuilding the IPO On-Ramp: Putting Emerging Companies and the Job Market Back on the Road to Growth”) which became the basis for the Jumpstart our Small Business Startups (JOBS) Act

“U.S. Treasury Department in March 2011 convened the Access to Capital Conference to gather insights from capital markets participants and solicit recommendations for how to restore access to capital for emerging companies – especially public capital through the IPO market.” [emphasis added]

The Task Force “concluded that the cumulative effect of a sequence of regulatory actions, rather than one single event, lies at the heart of the crisis.”

Enhanced transparency and tougher new regulations were intended to prevent financial crises like the ongoing economic collapse that has persisted in the US roughly since the turn of the century. Too many rules? Or not enough ethical businesses?  Stay tuned! Only time will tell.