"You have to start living the life of the person you want to be," Bobbie Barrett advises a meek Peggy Olson during an episode of Mad Men. "And no one will tell you this, but you can't be a man. Don't even try. Be a woman. Powerful business when done correctly."
I’ve been thinking a lot about what this means for young professional women in 2011 and beyond. I'm not sure what the future holds, but I bet we'll find out soon enough.
Whenever we discuss the scarce number of women in leadership positions or the persistent wage gap, the angle is always, how do we solve this problem? Or as the latter article gamely asks, why don’t women “grow a pair” now that they’re in such an excellent position to do so -- perhaps for the first time in history?
Maybe we’re all just missing the point. If the future of work is here at last -- business thought leaders have been predicting its arrival for years -- it coincides with some powerful economic realities for women. In 2010, we represented 47 percent of the work force, but by 2018, we’re expected to account for 51 percent of the overall increase in the work force in this country (see the Department of Labor stats here).
More importantly, as Aileen Lee points out on TechCrunch, not only do women dominate almost all social media channels, they also hold the purse strings. “Women are the routers and amplifiers of the social web. And they are the rocket fuel of ecommerce,” Lee says.
Sounds like “powerful business,” indeed.
If we still lack mentors, negotiating skills and institutional support, I wonder whether, in an age of flux, this very lack doesn’t give women an edge. Think about it: When everything is changing, imagination is critical. And with so few real mentors to show us the way, imagination is a woman’s best friend.
Freelancing (or in professional parlance, “consulting”), once the domain of lowly creatives like me, is becoming a normal work mode for many Gen Y-ers I know. But flexibility isn’t something workers wanted and got -- for many of us, it’s part of a massive shift in the marketplace that has forced us to cobble together work. It’s not all bad, though. See Business Insider’s take on six ways the work world is changing: Flexibility and work-life balance have long been on the wishlist of professional women.
For those of us who’ve been living on the fringes of traditional employment anyway, as many Gen Y-ers (both male and female) have, this makes the traditional work model look grimmer by the minute. Susannah Breslin wrote recently, “The middleman is being cut out of the marketplace, consumers and creators are learning how to develop relationships that serve both sides better, and the big companies are failing to understand how to work right in the new economy.”
This “new economy” has certainly impacted my field. I’m a writer and editor, and my husband and business partner is a web designer. At some point in the past three years, I realized we had a choice to make: Keep working late hours for little pay in the service of tyrannical bosses who berated us with accusations of insignificance, or work late hours for little pay in the service of a new, self-determined future.
By then, I’d spent plenty of time at all-male meeting tables, feeling frustrated by dated expectations. But I believed, that the same qualities I stifled during those testosterone-fueled sessions would be a boon to me as a (very) small-business owner. My sociability, my willingness to assign importance to emotional cheerleading, and my capacity to build personal relationships --virtually -- have helped me cultivate a loyal client base.
Maybe even crying in the office isn’t such a handicap in a world that favors untethered, entrepreneurial thinking. The same qualities that in a 20th-century office would relegate me to a support position have, in my home-office, helped me become acting president. Surprise!
Faking it until we make it -- as Bobbie Berrett suggested Peggy do, and what many successful men have done for years -- is lost on young entrepreneurial women. We have so few examples to imitate that most of us just make it up as we go along.
Now that we are both the consumers and the marketing managers, there are few limits as to what we can influence and how. Will women finally step up and harness the “powerful business” of this new reality?
I hope so. Sure, we have fewer seats at the table. But when you’re working with an empty canvas, the only limits are imaginary.
Lindsey Donner is a copywriter, editor and the co-founder of Well Versed Creative, a consultancy that partners with bloggers, authors and small business owners to produce best-in-class copy, design and front-end WordPress web development.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the country's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment and provides its members with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of a business's development and growth.