With regard to the title of Marcia Reynolds’ book, it refers to the movement of women with ever-increasing velocity into positions within and beyond the workplace that offer greater freedom and flexibility, more options and fewer restraints, increased authority commensurate with responsibility, and perhaps most important of all, substantially increased control of what they do as well as when, where, and how they do it. Women are now in the majority in terms of enrollment in two- and four-year colleges; also in graduate schools of business, law, and medicine.
Now consider these statistics: women control an estimated 80% of all household spending and the percentage is even higher for those ages 55-70. Also, women make 55% of all investment decisions, 55% of all decisions concerning consumer electronics, comprise 60% of all home improvement buyers and make 80% of all home improvement decisions, control more than 60% of new car purchase decisions, and 66% of decisions to purchase computers? With regard to income, during the years 1995-2008, women’s inflation-adjusted median income grew 26%, while men’s grew only 8%
As Reynolds points out, women “often intentionally take themselves out of the running for leadership positions as they wander around searching for the elusive ‘something more’ they need to do in this lifetime.” This is also one of the key insights in a book co-authored by Dave and Wendy Ulrich, The Why of Work. Men as well as women feel a compelling need to be appreciated, to believe that their work has value and is appreciated, and that there is a greater purpose in their lives. Reynolds notes that unfulfilled women feel “the urge to move, mentally if not physically, [because that] is lodged in their souls.” Her characterization is even more specific in Chapter 3 when she discusses 20+ “selves,” notably The Wanderer whose restlessness creates a “pattern of energy.” As Reynolds correctly notes, no one woman possesses the dominant characteristics of each of the different selves.
There are five factors that drive the success of second-generation high-achievement women: Extreme Confidence (“Give me a stick and I’ll build you a bridge”), Constant Need for New Challenges ((“Give me a stick and I’ll build you a bridge, unless I have already done that, so give me a bigger challenge or I’ll move on to something else”), A Strong Drive for Recognition Based on Performance, Not Gender (“Don’t do me any favors; just applaud me when I’m done”), Work Is Your Life’s Blood (“Retire? Never. I love knowing the world needs me.”), and Experience Is the Best Teacher (“Kick me down, I’ll bounce back up. But that will never happen again.”). Obviously, there is a Janus-like dual nature to these five drivers: too much and not enough. Of course, Reynolds fully understands the importance of proportions. Men as well as women can be guilty of excesses when responding to real or perceived grievances.
I think this book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of how “high achieving women find contentment and direction.” I also think this book can serve as a call to action to other women who have not as yet learned how to cope with their restlessness…and, yes, also as a call to action to men to become actively engaged in helping organizations to be more responsive and supportive of all the “heroes” and “heroines” who not only seek but in fact demand respect for who they are and what they do.
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Bob Morris is an independent management consultant based in Dallas who specializes in high-impact knowledge management and accelerated executive development. He has also reviewed more than 2,200 business books for Amazon’s US, UK, and Canadian websites. Each week, we will add to the Networlding Business Bookshelf abbreviated versions in which he discusses a few of his personal favorites. To contact him directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.