Having looked in some detail at how women fare in the workplace, it is perhaps necessary to evaluate how our economy and conditions of work are structured and how these should be changed in the 21st century. Already we know that women have life skills and natural abilities that are useful in businesses. We know that women tend to be great networkers, have inherent skills for negotiating, and the ability to multi-task. Single mothers are often good at delegating and budgeting; skills that they rely on to manage their families, which makes them valuable employees. We know that it’s proven that having more women in senior positions in a company adds to bottom line profits, but that women are also most often the primary educators of the children. So how that fit with the modern working world?
In order to answer this, it is necessary to look at what happened during the industrial revolution. It was during this time that mass employment began in factories and working conditions became more and more rigid and ordered. This was seen as necessary to ensure that production lines kept running and that large numbers of people were controlled by the same rules. In fact, the beginning of formal education systems in the form of schooling for the masses was originally geared around providing more literate and disciplined candidates for the many factories that were being built.
A post-industrial age
But we’re now in a post-industrial society, an age of knowledge workers, so why are we still working off the old rules? We are in the process of building a society where prejudice of all kinds, including between the genders, is an outmoded concept. This society doesn’t just allow for equal legal and political rights but is an entirely different kind of civilization built also on feminine ideals.
In the Bahai Writings, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states: “The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities of both body and mind. But the scales are already shifting — force is losing its weight and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine, and more permeated with the feminine ideals — or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.”1
What a wonderful society it is that we are working towards! It will involve entirely new ways of organizing our economy. When we consider the spiritual potential that is latent within all human beings, it is clear that the assumptions underlying today’s dominant economic systems do not draw out these dormant potentials—such as our capacity to love, to build unity and to serve others. Furthermore, these dominant systems are set up in such a way that in many cases they severely disadvantage those whose economic behavior is consistent with spiritual and moral principles. But this is changing.
Flexibility in the work place
The Obama administration is taking the lead in this regard. Recently, CEO’s, small-business owners, workers, academics, and advocacy groups gathered to take the microphone on what a White House press release described as “the importance of creating workplace practices that allow America’s working men and women to meet the demands of their jobs without sacrificing the needs of their families.”
“Flexible policies actually make employees more – not less – productive,” Mrs. Obama said, addressing business leaders. “Instead of spending time worrying about what’s happening at home, your employees have the support and the peace of mind they desperately need to concentrate on work.” Support, the first lady emphasized, creates a win-win scenario for both families and the bottom line.
For the Record
Study upon study echo Mrs. Obama’s words. The Families and Work Institute (FYI), for example, reports that employees in “effective and flexible workplaces” are more likely to be engaged in their jobs. They feel inspired to help their companies succeed. And workers say they have a greater desire to remain with their employer. FYI research indicates they’re healthier, too – both physically and mentally: workers who use their flex time to their best advantage have better overall health; experience less frequent minor health issues; and have lower stress levels and fewer signs of depression.
Calling for a Cultural Shift
Still, all is not rosy. Despite the potential benefits, many workers worry that tapping into flexible schedule options could hinder their job advancement. In many cases, these fears are indeed borne out: according to Families and Work Institute, 39% of workers who use such options are less likely to move up the career ladder. In worst-case scenarios, employees may even risk losing their jobs. But a start has been made and this is undoubtedly the pattern that the working world can and must follow in the years to come. It is the only way that the dichotomy between needing women in the workplace without compromising their role as mothers can be achieved. Only in this way can we move more swiftly towards valuing the contribution of both genders, and our society and our economies will be the ultimate winners.
- Abdu’l-Bahá: Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era