If women these days are being told to “lean in” and become more aggressive about their careers, the country’s unfolding demographics, as the new book Thirty Tomorrows shows, should make their task a lot easier than it has seemed to date. Because decades of low birth rates have slowed the flow of new workers of either sex into the nations labor force just as the baby boom has begun to increase the overhang of dependent retirees, American industry and business will face a relative shortage of trained workers. They will increasingly court women to supplement that shortage, and to do that they will make the workplace more woman friendly.
From the employer’s side, the potential for relief is great. Despite the profound effects of second wave feminism, women still participate in the workforce much less intensively than men. At last count, the Census Bureau estimates that only 70 percent of working-age women are working or seek paid employment, compared to 90 percent of men. If women were only to raise their participation half way to men’s rates, the nation would gain 7 percent more working hands and minds, a significant, if not complete relief in the demographically challenged future.
To induce this change, business will in the first place have to open itself to women’s approaches. It will also have to accommodate itself to women’s practical needs. A key is child care. Though modern society has long since concluded that child care is not solely a woman’s function, the fact is that women still shoulder the bulk of this responsibility, which no doubt explains their lower participation rate. One easy way business can meet this challenge is with release time for women to ferry their children from school to other supervised activities. More radically, business will increasingly offer on-site child care, particularly in places where large numbers of workers congregate. Such and accommodation would cost them less than a premium wage, especially if government also steps up to the need and offers tax benefits. As the relative shortage for talented workers grows in intensity, there is even a chance that the authorities will offer parents the opportunity to enroll their children near their work instead of near their home. Business might encourage such a change by offering to help finance local schools as a lure to their workers. No doubt circumstances will elicit more imaginative solutions. All will aim at accommodating women, as they become an increasingly critical answer to the unfolding worker shortage.