Even though we're only a couple decades into the transformation of the genders and work, we've settled on assumptions. It's women who struggle with work-life balance. Women and men have very different ideas about work, life and the meaning of success. Men are career risk takers. Women play it safe. And on it goes. Men are men. Women are women. And they see the world accordingly.
An important new study shows the danger of following temporary signs on the road to a foregone conclusion.
It was Marshall McLuhan who said: "Most of our assumptions have outlived their usefulness." The truth of that for women and work is understandable. While women started to change the workplace in the '70s, it's only been since the '90s that their presence -- half of all new management hires are women -- has gained real mass. As their numbers grow, assumptions about what they want and even who they are start to look as relevant as carbon paper.
The laws of physics tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. You can say the same for studies of women and work. They are happy -- they are miserable. They are frustrated -- they are optimistic. They have big dreams - -they have little dreams. Pick a survey, get a conclusion.
Parsing things like expectation, disappointment and optimism is a multi-level chess game -- complicated by situation, generation and the mysteries of individuals. But the fog of assumption may be lifting -- at least a little.
Yesterday Citi and LinkedIn released the results from the third Today's Professional Women Report that confirms some of what we thought. But in other areas, the structure of our recently-formed assumptions looks decidedly flimsy. The respondents were a nationally representative sample of 1,023 professional male and female LinkedIn members. Including men for the first time in the series provided some fascinating comparisons.
For example, one issue that has become gospel is that work-life balance is something that bedevils women far more than men. In fact, the survey found the balance is equally important to both men and women. It ranked as the number one career concern for both genders. Slightly more men than women cited balance as a major concern.
One surprise is in how men and women define "having it all." For men, 79 percent said it is being in a "strong, loving marriage." Only 66 percent of women buy into happily ever after. Eighty-six percent of men factor kids into their definition of success. Women who agree that kids are essential come in at 73 percent.
It's an article of faith that the female empathy and collaboration are right for these times when power can no longer be wielded like a blunt instrument. The problem is that there is not a shred of empirical research to back that up. While far short of proving the link between gender and leadership style, the self-assessment of the respondents lines up with theory. Overall, women were more likely than men to see themselves as good listeners, loyal, collaborative, detail-oriented and happy. Men were more likely than women to see themselves as confident and ambitious.
Does the Citi study put the men-women-work debates to rest? Hardly. But it does remind us that the impact of women on work is an evolving story, and we're still writing the early chapters.
This first appeared on Forbes.com.
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