We knew it was a he-cession. Men were harder hit in this recession, accounting for 71% of the jobs lost in the economy.
But men are faring far better than women in the recession recovery. According to a recent Pew research study, from the end of the recession in June 2009 through May 2011, men have gained 768,000 jobs, while women lost 218,000 jobs.
This gender twist has everyone scratching their heads, from the New York Times to the Washington Post, ABC News, Fox Business and Slate -- even the original Pew researcher, Rakesh Kochhar, mentioned in the study that he couldn't account for the difference.
Pundits have been offering up explanations, none of which fully satisfy; from the fact that men lost more jobs to begin with (still, the recovery is disproportionate to this loss), to accounting for the sectors that have seen recovery (still, men are gaining more jobs than women in 15 of the 16 major sectors, even in female-dominated sectors like retail), to pointing to plain old sex discrimination (while certainly still true, it doesn't explain why this is the first recession since 1970 where men have recovered better than women -- in all others, women recovered better than men).
Move Over, "Man"
Don't feel sorry for us yet.
Here's an explanation that many overlooked: many women aren't returning to the workforce. They're trading in "The Man" for "The Woman" -- and starting their own businesses. If these entrepreneurial women are filing 1099s instead of W-2s, they are not counted in the study.
When questioned about the data used, the study's lead researcher Kochhar confirmed this, reporting, "The employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't count the self-employed. It only looks at people on payroll."
The report was based on two studies, and while the unemployment data did count the self-employed, the employment data did not -- which accounts for why men's job recovery numbers are dwarfing women's.
This theory rings true to those with their pulse on small businesses, who have seen a spike in female entrepreneurship since the recession.
"Over the past six months, I've seen a pretty significant increase in women forming LLCs and incorporations," said Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation, a website that incorporates about 15,000 small businesses a year. Sweeney says that from January to June 2011, she has seen a 27% increase in women-owned businesses, compared to an 11% increase in men-owned businesses, against the same time frame in 2010. "Women have likely been working on these businesses for the last two years, and are just now incorporating." Sweeney says that about a quarter of her female applicants were downsized in the recession.
Adelaide Lancaster, partner of In Good Company, a web community for female entrepreneurs, has seen an increase in activity on her site since the recession. "Before the recession, we supported women who were already business owners," she says. "After the recession, it completely changed -- there was a demand for startup content. Women were being laid off, and they were using the opportunity to start their own thing."
Jocelyn Chia did exactly that. A corporate attorney, she was laid off in 2009 in the economic downturn, and instead of seeking out another corporate job, used the opportunity to start her own business, MomsLoveIt.com, a social deal site for moms that just launched last month. "Getting laid off was a total blessing," says Chia. "I was tempted to go back to a corporation for the stability, but it doesn't compare with the freedom, autonomy, and creative satisfaction I get from running my own business."
Chia also organized a panel at NYU's Stern School of Business called "Seeing the Silver Lining in the Pink Slip," on how people have used their layoffs as launch pads for entrepreneurship.
Let Me Do My Thing
The rise of female entrepreneurship seems palpable across all industries. Sweeney notes that most of her website's women-owned incorporations are in the fields of consulting and professional services, food (particularly food trucks), fashion and franchises.
But even male-dominated industries, like trucking, are seeing this trend: Ellen Voie, CEO of Women in Trucking, a professional organization, reports, "A lot of women are starting their own businesses now -- they're running their own trucking companies, buying their own trucks, getting into brokerage. They're trying to find women mentors for starting a business."
And let's not forget tech, where women are taking industry by storm -- duly noted by FastCompany's annual "Most Influential Women in Technology" awards, and the Huffington Post's new Women In Tech series.
"I've seen a trend in professional women starting to look for alternative work structures," says Lauren Chivee, Senior Vice President of the Center for Work-Life Policy. "Women are having children later and later, and it's coinciding with the most challenging years of their career. Freedom -- the ability to control your life and your time -- is incredibly important to them," she says.
As for the Gen Yers, many are bypassing the corporate route completely. Anne Loehr, executive coach and generational expert, says, "The Boomers looked up to CEOs of large companies such as Disney, GE and Walmart. Gen Y have more entrepreneurial role models, such as Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Gen Y females are hardworking and want to make a global impact, but are also looking for flexibility and balance. Entrepreneurship is their way forward."
If anything, the recession recovery numbers may tell a story of women starting to forge new ways -- entrepreneurial ways -- to career, or more accurately, life satisfaction. For women, the line between career and family/life was never as simple or straightforward as it was for men. And not only are women starting to do something about it, they're poised to, after years of paying their dues in the workforce.
"The risk of starting a business isn't the same anymore," says Lancaster. "People find the corporate route isn't giving back to them what they're investing. Women are opting out of corporate jobs, feeling that they've earned their stripes, and now they want to make decisions and drive the bus."
And the cake truck, and the big rig. We'll tip our hats to that.