Thursday, May 08, 2008

Will tomorrow's workplace need men?

Will Tomorrow's workplace need men?

The falling percentage of men who work, and what this means for society

Employment rates by sex: Source: the UK National Statistics Office

As the graph above shows, in the last 35 years in the UK the percentage of men of working age who are in employment has fallen 13% while the percentage of women of working age who are in employment has increased by 14%. This trend more or less levelled out in the early 1990s. This is largely understood to have occurred because of the de-industrialisation of the UK economy (a process which many Western nations have gone through) in which most manufacturing, mining and farming jobs have been exported to countries with cheaper labour, and a large number of 'service' sector jobs have been created. Equally, in the UK, the fishing industry has been all but destroyed by the European union. This, obviously, was another mostly male industry.

The American data tells a similar story:

(Men aged 16+)

(Women aged 16+)

(Civilian labor force participation rate,percentage employment (data calculated from the US Bureau of labor statistics. A great site in which you can chose yourself which data you want, and from which range of years. I chose to calculate these graphs from 1971 onwards, to match the UK graph above, but for interest I then calculated the data from as far back as it would go - 1948 - and it clearly showed the same trend was ongoing then. So we can assume that this trend, at lest in the USA, has been ongoing since at least just after World War 2. Therefore, contrary to what feminist lobbying groups say, the increase in participation of women in the workforce probably has more to do with changes in the economy, increasing technology, and the move away from employment in heavy industry - rather than campaigning from feminists.)

The US and UK graphs above are not directly comparable, due to differences in the way that the data is calculated and presented. But they are offered here just to show the general trends in faller percentage of men in employment and increasing percentage of women.

Nevertheless, while the trend for many decades has been a decrease in the percentage of men who are employed, just in the last few years the rhetoric in the media and in management consultancy has become very anti-male/pro-female.

Those who pontificate on the future of the workplace are fond of preaching to men that their days are numbered. Apparently we lack the key skills that are of increasing importance to productive business, skills that they claim women possess in abundance. We can't communicate well enough. We can't empathise, nurture relationships or multi-task. "New studies," claimed a report in Business Week in 2000, "find female managers outshine their male counterparts in almost every measure."

Not only are we lacking the requisite portfolio of skills, but we are also far too unruly and unpredictable. We question things too much. We're too competitive and combative. In short, we are too hard to micro-manage.

Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University, Francis Fukuyama writes: "Although few Human resource managers will say this out loud, in situations where a man and a woman with identical formal qualifications are competing for the same low-skill, but non-physical job, they will prefer the woman," this is not because she will perform the job better, but "because they know she will present fewer behavioural problems than the man." In other words, if you're looking for a drone, pick the sex that is better at conforming.

Modish management guru, Tom Peters is even harder on male managers. He sees us as so inferior to women that our only hope lies in emulating how they "work, build relationships and communicate." Presumably handbags and compact mirrors will soon be touted as essential accessories for today's male poodle workforce.

For Peters, even our urge to compete is a problem in the modern workplace. "If you try to cooperate rather than compete," he advices, "then you'll find it easier to build relationships and respect." It's a shame that companies pay thousands of dollars to have their workforces indoctrinated with these risible proscriptions, especially from a man whose never actually run a business or worked as a manager himself. Yet, with such feminist views popular in today's management philosophy, it's not hard to see how men are being written off as the second sex in the boardroom.

Also, given the fact that a majority of Human resource managers are themselves women will do nothing to the confidence of male job seekers. And if the female HR managers acting as 'gatekeepers' wasn't bad enough, there is the issue of 'sex equality' rules. Faced with a choice between hiring a man or a woman, many employers will hire the woman out of fear of a sex-discrimination lawsuit. One can see how the cards are being stacked against men looking for work.

Then there's the pressure from the feminist lobbies for women to work and covet the male role of main breadwinner, along with the concomitant encouragement for men to become househusbands. The theory proclaims that this is a great idea. The reality is that it rarely works. While women want to work, few men want to do housework. And while many men may want to spend time with their children, few women are comfortable allowing their man to 'take over' as their child's primary caregiver. Not to mention that the househusband role hits hard at a man's perceived virility.

Yet, like communism, feminism demands that reality fit theory, and where the two mismatch, its reality that must be made to conform. "Housewives," declared British Trade and Industry secretary Patricia Hewett recently, "are a problem." Women who want to direct their energies towards raising a family and not managing an office are a feminist politician's worst nightmare. They must be shamed back into the workplace at any cost.

All this is occurring behind a smokescreen of claiming that men still 'dominate' the 'top' positions in society. The executive roles in management, politics and the heads of major companies. This is largely irrelevant for two reasons:

1. These top jobs are actually a tiny percentage of the jobs in the economy, and only a tiny, but highly visible, percentage of men occupy these roles.

2. The men in these positions usually are more concerned with the opinions of the highly vocal feminist lobbies, female customers, and female voters, than on those of ordinary men, who hitherto (ie before the Internet) basically had no organised voice.

Equally, there are many more men working in the most unglamorous and dangerous jobs than there are working in these top jobs. These men - such as those who work in road maintenance, building, plumbing, painting, refuse collection etc - are essential to the smooth running of society but are largely invisible, particularly in the media.

There's no doubt that the feminist-era mixed sex workplace has become increasingly hostile towards men. Tales proliferate of rules against riding in elevators alone with a female staff-member, memoranda warning male staff not to "stare overtly" at their female colleagues, and even the banning of polished flooring for the reason that it allows uncouth male workers to see up the ladies' skirts.

And while men become increasingly regulated and micro-managed at the workplace, in my experience the same is not true of women. When I've worked in female offices I've found them incredibly sexist. In one office there were several soft-porn postcards and a calendar of naked and near-naked men. And often there would be a sign up with some man-bashing comment or joke. The women would also make anti-male jokes and pepper their conversations with pronouncements on the inadequacies of their men-folk.

Men would never get away with this in an office these days, but for women it seems its fine. After all, who's going to challenge them? Ten or twenty years ago all-male workplaces where women rarely ventured (such as workshops and garages) often had a female 'glamour' calendar on the wall featuring topless or bikini clad women. Today you never see this in these all-male work places, but you do see calendars and postcards of naked men in offices and workplaces where both men and women work. Presumably its okay to make a man feel uncomfortable at work, but not a woman. There was even a postcard of a naked man up in the barbers where I have my hair cut. Now, there were two women working there and two men, but all the customers are men and boys. Do we really want to see this? Most men don't.

Equally, whilst most men in office settings and business meetings are expected to abide by a fairly strict dress code - short hair, suit and tie, dark shoes etc - women now tend to be allowed to wear more or less whatever comfortable and colourful clothes they like. The only space within which a man is allowed to express himself typically is in the colour of his tie.

Yet to a feminist promoting the idea of an androgynous society, a female domination of the workplace is no bad thing and has no ill effects.

But it does.

You see, things don't look very good for the low-paid end of the male workforce. Consider that most women are hypergamous - they seek men who are of higher status than them - these trends have hit working class men's chances of happy marriage as well as getting a job. Few women seem to show interest in marrying a man who earns significantly less than they do, much less offer to work to support a man who wishes to become a house-husband. Women might say they do, but their actual choices suggest otherwise. Please don't take my word for it, just keep that claim in mind for a few weeks or months and observe the women around you, and observe businesswomen and women in power. More often than not you will find that even feminist women in positions of power - such as politician's or media stars - will often still marry multi-millionaire businessmen, or men of even greater power than themselves. Equally, many of the women who are now married to men who earn less than them were not higher earners than the man when they first met.

Not only did de-industrialisation and the flooding of women into the workplace hit blue-collar men particular hard in the wallet, it de-valued them in the mating game too. From the 1980s onwards the blue-collar Joe has been faced with an increasingly disinterested and surly pool of women to choose their dates from. On the arm of blue-collar Joe - if he can even attract a long-term partner - is now likely to be a woman who earns more than him, and in his pocketbook is a wage check that could never hope to support a family at the level his woman expects. His personal power and options in the sphere of marriage couldn't be lower.

It's not hard to understand: women seek a man of greater stature than themselves to make them feel secure, yet when the education and hiring systems and the management philosophy propaganda is all focused on propelling women into earning more, both sexes find one another less attractive for long-term relationships. Men don't feel compelled to romance and commit to power-hungry career women who boast that they don't need them. And for the highest earning Western women there is an ever-shrinking pool of eligible men of higher earning power than themselves to choose from. From New York to London, the ambitious career-focused single woman is pricing herself out of the dating market.

And because our economies are now based on the general assumption that both the male and female will work full time, house prices and the general costs of living have increased. For example, 40 years ago, most families had one full-time wage earner (the man) and the woman tended the house and raised the children. Because of this, the market for houses had to be based on the level of mortgage that one person could pay. But now, a couple who both work full time would easily out-bid the single working man for the cost of the house. Unsurprisingly, house-prices have sky-rocketed. Further upward pressure is placed on them by the lower rates of marriage and higher rates of divorce in the feminist era, meaning a greater demand for houses (and many other consumer goods) as the number of single-person households increases, and the number of two parent family households decreases.

Yet in this new, expensive-property, women-working era, husbands are still expected to pay alimony to the wife if she decides to divorce him - even if there is no particular reason. Needless to say, having to move out, and pay for two properties puts an almost impossible strain on most ex-husbands who find themselves in this position.

Even if women don't fully succeed in usurping us from our breadwinning role, new technological advances will finish off the job - jettisoning many of us out of the workplace for good.

The creator of the highly successful website, Marshall Brain, has published a thesis on how automated systems and robots could take over almost all jobs within the next two decades. An idea that many in technological and scientific circles are taking seriously.

Already automated systems are taking over such jobs as answering phone-calls and taking orders in fast-food restaurants. But soon, advances in robotics, and the continuing exponential growth of computing power could mean that in the coming decades the robots are not just working on factory production lines, but everywhere.

If the robots with 20th Century technology can build our cars and explore the solar system for us, then those of the 21st Century will surely be able to serve our food, stock the shops' shelves and teach our kids.

Such a scenario not only spells doom for men, but women too. Imagine a world with near total unemployment: millions of men mooching through the streets, growing more restless, angry and alienated by the day.

You think this is unlikely?

Arthur C. Clarke, in his book 'Profiles of the future' warns the would-be futurologist against the 'failure of nerve', the inability to admit that if something it is technically possible then it will also be inevitable. In other words, if a robot that is as agile and intelligent as a worker in a shop, restaurant or warehouse can be constructed, then it will be. And if one can be constructed, then a million can.

The implications are huge; big enough to warrant consideration even if the odds of the scenario playing out as Brain suggests are small.

Maybe more routine and easily defined tasks will continue to be automated in the years ahead, but until we see concrete evidence that the problems of programming robots with human-level vision, agility and common-sense can be overcome, its safe to assume that male-dominated physical jobs - such as plumbing, construction, garbage-collection, fishing etc - will continue to be performed by good old fashioned real men. The same goes for the wealth-creating workers - the entrepreneurs, inventors, writers, film-makers and so on. What do all these jobs have in common? They are creative and risk-taking; two traits that men beat both women and computers at.

And even if men are working less in the future, this will give them more time for pursuing their own interests. Most men do not have an overly romanticised view of 'careers' and would probably jump at the chance to have more free time to spend on their hobbies or watching their children grow up. As Peter Drucker - who at 93 is still the sharpest commentator on business management - points out: while today's society demands success of us all, this is obviously unrealistic, as most of us are, by definition, average. Therefore in order to allow most people to gain a sense of fulfilment and personal success in their lives will call for increasing importance of community activities, voluntary work, charity work, civic duties. Not every man can be a millionaire, but every man can try to carve out a useful niche for himself, whether it be coaching a local kids sports team, or running a useful website.

There are also many jobs these days which are highly tedious and repetative. Some so much so that you probably wouldn't be allowed to make animals work in such conditions!

The UK data seems to show that the drop in men's work and the increase in female employment seems to have levelled, while in the USA it still seems to be dropping (for men) and increasing (for women). Further waves of technological development and the decreasing percentage of young men who are entering higher education could mean that in the near future more women than men have jobs.

If, overall, women come to dominate the workplace, yet not evolve beyond their hypergamic tendencies in choosing a mate, then I think this will be bad for relationships, and cause increasing crime and social unrest. However, despite women increasingly finding a career-dominated life not all it was claimed to be, I don't believe their will be any mass exodus of Western women out of the workplace and back to the kitchen and the nursery. There's no turning back the clock, and there are no easy answers. The only real questions are whether the center of gravity of male workers will exist above or below its feminine equivalent in pay and status, and to what extent technological advances will create or destroy male jobs.

Any women tempted to sneer at the unwanted male worker should remember, though, that the technological advances would hit women just as hard. After all, in the best known contest between Humans and machines in the intellectual field - Chess - the best computer came first, the best male second, and then the females.

Further reading:

'Why men earn more', Warren Farrell (2005)

UK Nation statistics: Social Trends 2006 Report: The Labour Market

US Department of labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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