We open by declaring that women are virtually absent from the Official Future (except as a delivery system for the dreaded population bomb), and that women's own version of the Official Future-a slow but inexorable glide toward social, political and sexual equality-is unlikely.
After publication, some critics were sharply skeptical about our extrapolations of the glacial rate at which women might achieve equality in the workplace and in politics. Did we miss the acceleration everyone else confidently anticipated? Not so far.
Nine years later, Catalyst reports that the number of women serving on Fortune 500 boards is up from the 9.5% we reported in 1995 to a whopping 13.6% in 2003. The percentage of women who are corporate officers was 8.7% in 1995; in 2003 it's 15.7%.
In 2004, the Center for American Women and Politics reports that women hold 13.6% of the 535 seats in the 108th US Congress, 14% of the seats in the Senate (with a woman House minority leader) and 13.6% of the seats in the US House of Representatives. State legislatures are 22.4% women. The Center also reports that the numbers of women running for statewide elective offices is declining, though women presently hold about a quarter of the 315 available positions.
A little arithmetic shows that the rate of change in business and politics both has barely changed in nearly a decade. Furthermore, nine years ago we warned that steady increases aren't foreordained. Women's proportional representation in the higher reaches of business or in Congress could reach 15% or 25% and climb no higher. We continue to doubt the likelihood of the Official Future--women's, or anybody else's.
In contrast to the Official Future, our book presented four possible scenarios for women in the year 2015. They are:
"A Golden Age of Equality;"
"Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back;" and
"Separate, and Doing Fine, Thanks!"
These four scenarios, plus the on-the-spot reports from the 1995 UN World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, grow out of an electronic conference Pamela McCorduck hosted, and an international meeting Nancy Ramsey organized for the Global Business Network, plus further research on the possible worldwide impact of some of the great social and technological changes of our time. In 2004, nine years past the time these scenarios were first published, and eleven years before the target date of 2015, how does it now look?
Backlash. The Muslim world is more convulsed now than when we wrote, and the marker for this convulsion is nearly always women--should they be veiled, allowed to go to school, to work, to vote, to drive their own cars? (Should they, as when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, be denied any public role whatsoever, even if this means they starve?)
In 2003, the United States and Great Britain (and a few other nominal allies) invaded Iraq and overthrew its dictator, Saddam Hussein, on the premise that weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat to the U.S. and Great Britain. Failing to find those weapons, the invading forces now wish to establish a democratic Iraqi government. Fine phrase, but Iraq has had little experience with democratic traditions, and if popular vote is allowed, is most likely to choose a return to religious law, which will thrust women into worse circumstances than they endured under Saddam Hussein.
In the West, especially Western Europe, young Moslem women insist on their right to don headscarves as a symbol of their religious piety, or, as others say, a symbol of their second-class status inside Islam. As their numbers increase, they've caused consternation in long secular societies such as France, Germany and The Netherlands.
Five or six years apart, two different high-fashion designers, remarkably clueless about symbolism, have promoted Moslem-style veils as chic apparel for their wealthy clientele.
Republicans in the White House and a majority in Congress have ended the support Americans once gave to international organizations promoting women's reproductive health. Even though a Republican-appointed committee investigated rumors of forced abortions in China and found no evidence of them, accusations against these reproductive health organizations continue, and they receive no funds for women's reproductive health whatsoever.
The abortion issue is telling. If tenable arguments can be made against abortion as unethical, equally tenable arguments can be made that forced childbirth is at least as unethical. (Many commentators have noted the irony of ideologues who aim to weaken government--except for intruding into this and other exceptionally private and personal areas.) Moreover, if concern for the protection of life is genuine, the American government has many areas where it might be more diligent, such as the environment, safety standards in the workplace, or even the provision of health insurance for at least 40 million uninsured Americans. The abortion debate's subtext really seems to be a rage against sexuality, particularly the expression of female sexuality.
As the Alan Guttmacher Institute shows in a 2004 study, investments in women's health return big benefits because they affect women and men at the prime of their lives. These investments allow greater education opportunities for all family members, particularly girls, as families get smaller; a healthier and therefore more productive workforce with higher rates of savings and economic growth; higher levels of social and political participation; reduced public expenditures related to maternal health problems, family subsidies and orphan care. Unfortunately, as Amnesty International documents, the human rights of women all over the world are in grave jeopardy.
A Golden Age of Equality. If the "sandpile effect" ever takes place, it hasn't happened yet. But this chapter inspired at least two women that we know of to take action. The late Anita Borg, a computer scientist, founded the thriving Center for Women and Technology, aimed at empowering women in the technological world. Merle Lefkoff, whose work in international conflict mediation has often centered on women, took a year's leave from her job as a mediator to begin research at Los Alamos National Laboratories on how to make that sandpile effect come about, specifically during peace negotiations to end international conflicts. Women suffer disproportionately from these conflicts, but are seldom if ever at the table when the peace is struck. Moreover, Marie C. Wilson, for twenty years the president of the Ms. Foundation for Women, has been engaged in training women for leadership, first by establishing "Take Our Daughters to Work Day" (15 million adult participants annually) and for the last five years, with the White House Project, aimed at recruiting and training 1000 women to become political leaders, and yielding candidates for the US presidency, "a critical mass of women, a diversity of women, so you get some really different perspectives at the table so we can have different solutions."
Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back. That recently reported percentage of top American industrial jobs held by women: why is it so dismal? A certain amount of residual discrimination against women remains, but Catalyst suggests that the problem is women's career path: women tend to choose staff, not line jobs, and most top executives are promoted out of line jobs. Furthermore, corporations are unsympathetic to women's often more significant family responsibilities. January 2004 articles in Fast Company say yes, but there's more: women place greater value than men do on the things any striving corporate executive must sacrifice-family time, private time-and are likelier to choose to give up the twelve hour days, the weeks on the road, to have a life. These are not women who drop out of business; they simply move to less demanding jobs. Moreover, a longitudinal study shows that, with equal skills and education, men simply compete harder than women. Interestingly, both groups report equal satisfaction in their work. One such woman said: "People get mad if I describe women as a group. But we are relational family beings. We do not have a world that's structured to understand that, to know how to account for it, and I don't know that we ever will." A woman and former CEO begs to differ: "The conclusion we should be drawing is, 'Another company just fucked up big time. Another company just trained somebody and made them incredibly skilled and still couldn't keep them.'" (fastcompany.com) In Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, the American administrator of Iraq in the winter and spring of 2004, asserted that the Coalition is committed to continuing to promote women's rights in Iraq. As evidence, the draft proposal of the new Iraqi constitution proposes that 40 percent of the seats in the National Assembly be set aside for women, and that women be treated equally under the law.
Separate-and Doing Fine, Thanks! The organizations for women in businesses and professions are legion. They promote networking, training, and if necessary, collective action against discrimination.
The Center for Women's Business Research in Washington, D.C. reports that in the US, one in every eleven adult woman owns a business, and together, they employ more than 18 million workers. The number of women-owned employer firms grew by 37% between 1997 and 2002, four times the growth rate of all employer firms. Nearly half of all businesses (46%) are at least 50% owned by a woman or women. Between 1997-2000 the number of 100+ employee women owned firms grew by 44% and $1M+ women-owned firms increased in number by 32%, both over 1 1/2 times the rate of all comparably-sized firms. The Center emphasizes that women business owners have a different management style from men: women are less hierarchical, may take more time when making decisions, seek more information, and are more likely to draw upon input from others, including fellow business owners, employees and subject-matter experts.
The New York Times ran a page-one story on February 27, 2004, about boomer women-heterosexual, many at present in male-female relationships-who expect to outlive their male partners, and therefore are making legal and life plans to spend their old age living with female friends in reciprocal caregiving and friendship, rather than relying on their children or paid caregivers to take care of them.
A lesbian retirement community is planned outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. While it encountered some initial opposition, at the moment, building is on schedule. Elsewhere around the southwestern United States, other specifically gay and lesbian retirement communities are planned.