The Washington Post

Women are faring better than men in wake of the recession

Marian Dowe, a librarian at Howard University, moved to the Washington area earlier this year in search of a job.

“I was talking with a friend who lives in this area, and she told me that this area was not impacted by the recession,” Dowe said. “I looked it up and saw it to be true.”

Within months, Dowe found full-time work. But even after that, she said she has continued to receive at least three inquiries a week from employers and head hunters who are interested in her background in information sciences.

As the unemployment rate inches its way down, women, in particular, say they are finding that their skills are in high demand.

Women have largely outpaced men in re-entering the work force following a deep recession and weak economic recovery. The latest unemployment figures, released this month, show that the national unemployment rate for women is 6.8 percent, compared with 7.7 percent for men. Women have regained all of the jobs they lost during the recession, while men continue to lag by 2.1 million jobs, Labor Department figures show.

Part of that, economists said, is because the jobs that have been created in recent years — in retail, education, hospitality and tourism — tend to be filled by females. Manufacturing and construction, industries where the work force is mostly men, have yet to rebound at the same rates.

But, analysts said, there might also be something else at play: The financial crisis may have nudged corporations to rethink their decades-old strategies, particularly at their highest ranks.

“Perhaps, finally, there’s a recognition that the all-men style may not necessarily be the best or only way to lead,” said Paul Unger, who owns an executive job placement firm in McLean. “In the difficult environment that we’re in now, perhaps there’s been a recognition that a more inclusive style of leadership is the right one for the time.”

Throughout the region, women have increasingly been picked to head large companies. This year alone, Marillyn A. Hewson took over the top job at Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, while Kim Koopersmith became the first chairwoman of the law firm Akin Gump. Phebe Novakovic took the reins at General Dynamic, and Deborah Alderson was named chief executive at Sotera Defense Solutions.

The traditionally male government contracting industry, in many cases dominated by military veterans, has been rapidly reshaped in recent years. At Northrop Grumman, for example, nearly half of the company’s top leadership team is made up of women.

Other sectors, such as law and banking, have also added women to their top ranks.

At PNC’s regional offices, women have increasingly been appointed to leadership roles — in part, executives said, in response to the rising number of women looking for mortgages and banking services.

“Over the past few years, we’ve seen more women buying homes and making financial decisions for themselves and their families,” said Sandra Zimmerman, who manages PNC’s mortgage division in Washington. “And the fact is, women like to deal with women.”

A record 40 percent of women are now the primary breadwinners in American households that have children under the age of 18, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center. That represents a four-fold increase from 1960.

Still, there are some measures by which the employment landscape looks less favorable for women than for men. For example, women continue to earn less than their male colleagues. In the Washington area, women are paid 82 cents for every $1 received by male counterparts, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families. And women comprise just 4 percent of chief executive positions at Fortune 500 companies, according to data from nonprofit research firm Catalyst.

“While the numbers of women in the boardroom are nowhere near the numbers for men, the glass ceiling has definitely been broken,” Unger said.

Marjorie Censer contributed to this story.

Abha Bhattarai is a business reporter for The Washington Post. She has previously written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg Times.
Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.
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