Society Is Holding Women Back From Being Creative

Women are playing a vital role in the emerging creative economy. But women must play a larger role -- or the "left brain" world will be taking us even deeper into the dark south.

Society, not just men alone, are holding women back.

A study by Professor Sally M. Reis of the University of Connecticut discovered a myriad of barriers to otherwise "creative women."

Reis found that:

pursuing one's creative talents was misconstrued as selfish consideration... There was an expectation that women had a unique nurturing role that contradicted a life of creativity"; two, that many otherwise creative or productive women felt a "sense of guilt if they pursued their own creativity and talents at the cost of putting the needs of their partners and families first"; and women with religious backgrounds and beliefs grappled with the idea that developing their own talents might be construed "a selfish, immodest occupation".

What will it take to get our thinking aligned with the realities of the economy? Women's suffrage II?

Here in America, more women are occupying positions of greater influence. Elsewhere in the world, particularly the Arab world, we are keeping our fingers crossed.

This spring, the King of Saudi Arabia dismissed his chief of the religious police and a cleric who condoned killing the owners of TV networks that broadcast "immoral" content, a move that signal an effort to weaken the country's hard-line Sunni establishment.

More to the point, the shake-up -- King Abdullah's first since coming to power in August 2005 -- included the appointment of a female Deputy Minister, Noura al-Fayez, as deputy for girls' education, the highest government position a Saudi woman has ever attained.

In Jordan, Deputy Minister al-Fayez and Queen Rania -- like Michelle Obama -- also seem to care about the advancement of women. The queen has championed transforming preschool and K-12 education as well as opening opportunities in Jordan's universities for people of all color, race, creed and religion, especially young women.

As "globalization" compels governments to reinvent how they solve national issues in the wake of global problems, an increased female presence is paramount. We need to cooperate.

At present, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged during her confirmation hearings, "the plight of women and girls who comprise the majority of the world's unhealthy, unschooled, underfed and unpaid... is of particular concern."

The Arab world has the lowest proportion of working women in the world. Women represent less than a quarter of the Gulf's national work force, according to a recent United Nations report. They comprise just 29 percent of the labor force in the Arab Mediterranean rim countries, which excludes female casual labor, agricultural production and domestic work.

While close to 50 percent of women already work in the Western world, they are paid only 60 to 75 percent of what their male counterparts earn. Further, while we can applaud the Meg Whitman's' of the world (her EBay stewardship anyway) and Nancy Pelosis of the U.S., women occupy only a small number of CEO and government leadership positions.

They are woefully underrepresented on the boards of directors of major corporations. According to a 2007 Catalyst census, women represent only 13 percent of corporate board seats in the Fortune 500 -- an increase of only 1 percent since 2005.

This backward-looking attitude that we live with around the globe is not helpful to the social, political, or economic health of the nation, let alone the world. As we look to knowledge as the new wealth in this age of creativity and innovation, the costs of discrimination are simply not affordable by any community or nation hoping to participate in this new economy.

The new global economy demands skill sets that are not, not now at least, natural for men: listening, collaborating and compromising. Frankly, men's testosterone levels often get in the way.

Yet, the timing is right. Finding solutions to national and global issues challenging us on every front, and removing barriers to the full and equal social and economic participation of women in today's global innovation economy, is critical to our nation's success. Indeed, to every nation in the world.

All of us have to deal with a flaw in our thinking.

When it comes to high-level positions in the new so-called creative economy -- a new global economy every nation must be part of -- society, or societal pressures and expectations, are usually the reasons many women do not succeed.This must change.