Volume 8, No. 3: Section 4, Autumn 2006


BOOK REVIEW with Editorial License:
Setting New Trends

What Women Really Want
Authors: Celinda Lake and Kellyanne Conway with Catherine Whitney
New York: Free Press, 2005.
ISBN 13: 978-0-7432-7382-4 or ISBN 10: 0-7432-7382-6

American women have evolved into shapers of trends rather than followers or reactors to trends, according to the national survey results described in What Women Really Want. Interest in tracking some astonishing trends in the lives of American women led Democratic pollster Celinda Lake and Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway to rise above their political differences after the 2004 US Presidential election. They decided to collaborate on a survey in order to learn more about their anecdotal experiences that suggested an emerging united voice in American women. Lake and Conway interviewed a nationally representative sample of 804 women (200 of them in expanded interviews). They found that American women are shifting away from being content to fit into the male mold of professional, personal, political, and family life. Their data showed that common interests cross the divisions of politics, race, ethnic groups, religion, age, socioeconomic status, and traditional expectations. American women are melting the old molds. Women are incorporating diversity, choice and creative directions to shape new lifestyles that reflect their own needs, values, and wishes.

Lake and Conway teamed up with writer Catherine Whitney to translate the data (appendaged in the book) from the 804 interviews into a new portrait of women in the USA. The new woman-shaper of trends may be of any age (ranging from the senior to the young adult). She may be a Depression Baby (born in the 1930s – the Silent Generation), a World War II baby (born in the early 1940s – the GI Generation), a Baby-Boomer (born between 1946 – 1964), a Generation Xer1 (born between 1965 – 1975), a Generation Yer2 (sometimes called the Millennial Generation, born between 1976 - 2001), or a Tweener3 (sometimes called a Cusper, born between and overlapping proximal earlier and later generations).

The research results indicate that today’s woman may choose to be single, married or partnered. She may be of any racial or ethnic group or groups. She may be a pre-schooler’s mom while still in her 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s. This woman may be employed part-time or full-time, as a teacher, corporate lawyer, general medical practitioner, dean of a medical school, business owner, or president of a university. Her top priorities may include her family, her own additional advanced degree or executive job training, the budget of the faculty group practice, the health care policy of her state, or security and adventures during retirement.

Four of the eight archetypes that emerged from the polling data are

Women are expanding the concept of employment with shared jobs, at-home offices, or part-time employment while caring for children or elder relatives. Parenting children and pets is shared more with a spouse, partner, paid caregiver or caregiver program/facility. The trend shows that highly functioning women give priority in job searches to institutions that have women executive leaders and family-friendly policies (including hiring the trailing spouse or partner).

According to the data, both females and males are important to mentor women pursuing career growth though the styles of mentoring differ. Female mentors provide “…informal fellowship, guidance within the corporation, motivation and encouragement…” while male mentors provide “…general business training, leadership opportunities, coaching feedback, negotiating skills, and networking and advancement…” (page 71).

Critical tips from female mentors include strategies to achieve success and overcome gender bias in careers, balancing job demands with family and personal needs, job-sharing, and advice on maternity- or family-leave issues. Though the traditional business model stresses individual achievement, more women climbing the ladder of success are instituting a model of success that features cooperation, collaboration, recognition and promotion of team members, and balance in work-family-personal life.

Older women are delaying retirement, not only for economic reasons but also because of wanting to stay active and involved. They work hard and want to continue working because of their love of and the stimulation of challenges in their chosen careers. And they are insisting that the work environment integrate the family needs, for example, having at the workplace: breast-pumping stations, exercise rooms with available showers and lockers, support groups for people dealing with various health conditions, and day care programs. The research found a trend for women to leave the workplace for longer periods to have and raise children and for family-friendly policies to expand resources and leave time for men as well as women.

Despite their increased availability of choices and workplace responsibilities, women still carry twice the load as their partners at home. With so many demands from work and home on their time, women have relied heavily on their abilities to multitask better than men. For example, women dictate while driving to their workplace, they access condensed news-bytes on the computer while organizing medical records, they return messages on their Blackberry while rushing to their next patient, they write reports in a taxi or an airplane while traveling as the keynote speaker to a conference, and they cook or nurse the baby while listening to continuing education lectures on their TV or computer. The costs are great, leading to microscopic amounts of “me time” and mega amounts of stress. Efforts to increase efficiency include a growing trend to connect more with loved ones through video phones, to do more on-line shopping, to schedule routine “me time” at a gym or at sunrise before starting their other duties, to set up routine partner/family-fun dates, and to learn the power of saying “No”.

Challenges in Dealing with the Younger Generations
The Millennial Generation consists of young people facing new challenges to find their path in life. Some types that the authors describe are

Boomeranger: adult children (sometimes with their own children) who return home to live after college and/or after breaking up with a partner/spouse. Economic stress, comfortable social and supportive family networks, and delayed maturity are factors. Though highly educated, their large college loans make them financially dependent on their parents. They are caught between high expectations and the complexities of reality, such as outstanding bills, higher costs of living, and fewer appropriate jobs available.

Generation 9/11: the generation matriculating at or attending a university during the disaster of 9/11/01. These youth were shocked out of a pleasant, peaceful, love-the-mall-and-those-brand-names lifestyle to face international turmoil. From that turmoil emerged patriotism and the desire to contribute to make a serious difference in the lives of others.

Grandboomer: the grandparent baby-boomers (born between 1946 – 1964). They may delay retirement until 80 years of age. They are expanding political attention to the issues of economic stability such as Social Security, benefits such as health and prescription insurance, and tax breaks, such as for family caregivers of children as well as the elderly.

The Generation Xers and Yers learned to be skeptical about government from their parents and from the news media. Women still struggle for appropriate representation at the level of the US Congress and Presidency. The political blog network, which has morphed in the last decade, now consists of about …”8 million Americans”…and …”32 million”…regular readers (page 211). Bloggers gained force in the 2004 Presidential elections. Political committees have learned that the way to connect to and court the younger generations and the computer literate is through the Internet.

Unfolding Trends for the Future
In discussing the data organized in tables throughout What Women Want, the authors provided strong evidence supporting their conclusion that the trend for women is to gain a stronger voice and a stronger identity in political issues, campaigns, offices, career and daily life. They insist that the female vote counts, that the female voice counts. The “Mother Agenda” may become the next hot buzzwords. We are moving to a Presidential ticket with a woman Democrat in contest with a woman Republican with the inevitable result, a female American President...finally. It will become normal to see female leadership at the highest levels of leadership. Then there will be a trend for more available and affordable: education, health care, homes, and communication technology. There will be more flexible commitment and marriage ceremonies. Gift registries will feature couples, partners, singles, high school and college graduates, physicians starting their first academic or community position, people having birthdays, and retirees. There will be female public voices pressing for healthier and safer food, air, lifestyles, preventive medicine, and environments. There will be more flexible work positions, workplaces, work hours, and work benefits.

What Women Want encourages women to keep striving for diversity, choice and creative directions to shape new lifestyles that reflect their own needs, values, and wishes. Ultimately, there will be greater room for women at the top of the career ladders, and they will build stairways, escalators, elevators, and accessible walkways to ease the entry for others into those highest, most responsible positions with inclusive, expansive, caring policies and resources.

Leilani Doty, PhD
University of Florida

1Generation Xers , though not defined by major world events such as the Depression or the Vietnam War, are high tech experts, independent, and entrepreneurs, perhaps because many grew up in single parent homes or homes with two working parents and were more self–sufficient during childhood.

2Generation Yers, also more high-tech savvy and independent, tend to be more multicultural as the racial and ethnic populations in the USA continue to shift. They marry and become parents later. Younger generation Yers may live at home longer, often returning after a spat with a partner or a divorce. They may struggle to find themselves, find fulfilling work, or become independent.

3The Tweeners’ overlap with their preceding and following generations results in exposure to and experience in the cultures of both generations. They could be called bi-generational or polygenerational when growing up with live-in grandparents. Thus, the comfort and familiarity of the Tweeners facilitate their understanding, ability to negotiate and adaptability in working with (or rebelling from) these other generations.

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