In today’s labor market, we are not surprised to see the participation of women in every sector from the service industry to high-level management in corporate America. But looking over the past century, the empowerment of women in the workforce has marked a dramatic social change. It has occurred, remarkably, without upheaval and is generally well-accepted by men and women alike. Women now make up almost half of American workers (49.9 percent), however this trend has created new social pressures, and arguably the need for changes in corporate culture to engage this new type of workforce.

In a recent report titled “Female Power,” the Economist chronicles the rise of the economic empowerment of women, and also explains the social implications and problems that it has created.

From the article:

“…the biggest reason why women remain frustrated is more profound: many women are forced to choose between motherhood and careers. Childless women in corporate America earn almost as much as men. Mothers with partners earn less and single mothers much less…

…A survey for the Children’s Society found that 60 percent of parents agreed that ‘nowadays parents aren’t able to spend enough time with their children.’ In a similar survey in America 74 percent of parents said that they did not have enough time for their children.”

In comparison to much more accommodating European countries, the U.S. provides no statutory paid leave for mothers and only 12 weeks unpaid. Compared to OECD standards, America’s public spending on family support is low– it spends only 0.5 percent of GDP on public support for child care.

The trend of increasing numbers of women in the workforce will continue– according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up two-thirds of employees in ten of the 15 job categories likely to grow fastest in the next few years. With women making up a significant portion of the labor force, policies that support flexibility in the workplace and that engage talent are increasingly relevant for the business community. Being able to effectively harness and manage this new type of workforce could have important implications for the competitiveness of the U.S. economy.

“Goldman Sachs calculates that, leaving all other things equal, increasing women’s participation in the labor market to male levels will boost GDP by 9 percent in America…”

Some in the corporate world are already doing much to address the need to keep their female talent, and help women juggle the dual responsibilities of work and family.

“Addleshaw Goddard, a law firm, has created the role of legal director as an alternative to partnerships for women who want to combine work and motherhood. Ernst & Young…has increased its efforts to maintain connections with women who take time off to have children and then ease them back into work…Almost half of Sun Microsystem’s employees work at home or from nearby satellite offices.”

Addressing the need for flexibility in the workplace is an issue that Corporate Voices for Working Families regards as a business imperative. Studies show that flexibility policies offer concrete benefits in terms of financial performance, and operational and business outcomes. Being able to telecommute or work flexible hours has been proven to increase job satisfaction, commitment, and engagement among workers, and it has also boosted innovation, quality, customer retention, and shareholder value. More and more, people are coming to understand that workplace flexibility policies are more than a benefit to workers– they are a new way the business community can get the most out of an increasingly changing labor market.

-Yvonne Siu