Women are on the rise in the work place. More than two million working mothers in the UK are now their family’s main breadwinner, according to a recent report by the Institute for Public Policy Research. This represents an 80 per cent rise in the last 15 years. Women workers have become a vital part of the UK economy.
This is not just a UK phenomenon. Four in ten American households with children under aged 18 now include a mother who is either the sole or primary earner for her family, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census and polling data. This share, the highest on record, has quadrupled since 1960.
Assumptions that women have been harder hit by the recent recession also appear to be wide of the mark. Since 2008 the number of UK women in work has increased by more than a quarter of a million, a 1.2 per cent net rise, while the number of men in work has dropped by 70,000, a 0.4 per cent net fall according to a recent study of official labour market data.
So are women better bosses, employees or colleagues? Is the rise in women in the work place a real step forward for business? Are businesses mad to turn their back on potentially the best resource they have?
The battle of the sexes in the work place is an age-old debate. It is usually kicked off by the argument that women’s softer skills – better listeners, mentors, multi-taskers…make them, all things being equal, a better person to have around in a working environment.
But let’s take a harder look at the growing body of research that suggests women can work wonders.
1. Live and learn
There are already plenty of studies showing that women do better than men in the classroom but recent research by the University of Georgia and Columbia University shines some more light on the subject. It suggests that behaviour and approaches to learning helps girls outdo the boys when it comes to education. In other words, females appear to come across much better when it comes to attentiveness, task persistence, eagerness to learn, learning independence, flexibility and organization – all prized assets for any business.
2. Bright prospects
Intelligence has never been far away from the frontline of the battle of the sexes – and, in the past, IQ tests have consistently shown that men have the edge, But recent research from IQ expert James Flynn suggests women’s IQs are growing faster than men and that they are closing the gap.
3. Passing the stress test
Women are apparently better at coping with stress than men, which US scientists believe is down to the protective effect of oestrogen, which appears to ‘block’ the negative effects of stress on the brain.
In a US study, scientists put male and female rats through tasks that mimicked challenging experiences humans often face, such as those causing frustration and feelings of being under pressure. Unlike some of the male rats, the female rats showed no impairment in their ability to recognise objects they had previously been shown. An inability to remember a familiar object indicates a disturbance in the part of the brain that controls working memory, attention, decision-making and other high-level ‘executive’ processes.
Other research from the University of Western Ontario looked at how men and women handled the stresses of job interviews. Their findings showed that women, although typically more stressed about interviewing, performed better than their male counterparts in interviews, thanks in large part to the way in which they coped with stress.
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