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July 11 2011

Did Workplace Flexibility Protect Women During the Recession?

Sabrina Schaeffer

Michael Barone writes in the Washington Examiner today about the end of the "man-cession" - the notion that "many more men than women lost their jobs" during the recent economic downturn. As he points out, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found men lost 5.4 million jobs, while women lost 2.1 million during the same period (December 2007-June 2009).  

Barone identifies several factors that could have resulted in this imbalance, including the fact that several of the industries hit hardest by the recession were construction and manufacturing, both dominated by men. (Much to the chagrin of many feminists, actually, a central component of the economic "stimulus" plan in 2009 was massive spending on the repair of roads, bridges and schools, which they felt unfairly benefited men.) Barone also acknowledges that the highest number of job losses took place in the private sector rather than the public sector, where women tend to dominate.

Still another explanation - not mentioned by Barone - but discussed by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in their book Womenomics (2009) is that more "employers are introducing alternative work schedules, furloughs, unpaid vacation time and reduced schedules specifically in response to the economic situation. These firms see flexibility as a way to keep up morale and avoid mass layoffs."

The fact is many women value time and flexibility as much as money.  

Traditional feminist organizations often work under the assumption that society and the workplace are openly antagonistic toward women. They advance the notion that women are entitled to high salaries, benefits and job security without acknowledging that each of these comes with a cost. And they often work to pass gender-protection laws to make the workplace more "fair." But in reality, burdensome regulations actually end up making the cost of employment higher and reducing flexibility for all workers.

While the official "recession" might be over, the economy is still lagging, and we shouldn't overlook the tremendous value of choice and flexibility for women - and men - and their employers.

Sabrina L. Schaeffer is a senior fellow with the Independent Women's Forum and managing partner of Evolving Strategies.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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