The pride of their working-class family, both she and her brother excelled at Princeton, and then she went on to Harvard Law School. Before her husband became president, Mrs. Obama had a thriving career, but since the birth of her daughters, she's made it plain she considers raising them her top priority. And she backed that up in her job choices—opting for flexibility over promotions. "No matter what decision you make at any point in time," she concluded, with an understanding shake of her head, "you feel like you should be doing more on the other end."
It's great to know we're not alone in our angst, but you'll feel even better when you learn that this uniquely female torture doesn't have to be yours, or any woman's. Not anymore. Why? The scale of transformation roiling beneath the surface is immense. This is a moment in history when outside forces have aligned to create a profound upheaval in the world of work.
Another fact: women top every company's most wanted list.
We'll bet you had no idea just how essential you are. (Naturally that information isn't just handed out to the masses. That would give us too much leverage.) A treasure trove of remarkable new economic data plainly proves we have power like never before. And hard data is critical, because, after all, we're not going to get something from the business world just because we want it. We have to be valuable to the bottom line in order to force change. And are we ever. Why? Because businesses with more women in senior positions make more money. It's as straightforward and stunning as that.
The business world is changing in ways that call for more brain over brawn, and our more inclusive and constructive management style is in high demand. Again, this claim is not wishful thinking; you'll see the research. And when you do, it will make perfect sense. Our right-brain multitasking and problemsolving skills help us make good corporate decisions. And companies now understand that a woman's opinion about products is critical, since (as we all know) we do the bulk of the buying for our families. Throw in the fact that we've got more degrees than men do and that there is an approaching talent shortage, especially of college-educated workers, and anyone can do the math. We have never been hotter. And it helps, by the way, that our savvy youngers are fanning the flames, demanding more freedom than we've dared.
"I think it is about women, and in some ways, even more about Gen X and Gen Y," agrees Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay and a keen follower of business trends. "There's no question that workforces and workplaces are changing dramatically."
One more fact: Not only is all of this still relevant in a recession, but it's absolutely essential. Over and over again companies have told us that retention of valuable talent is key in tough economic periods, as is the need to get smart about how to accommodate employees.
"At times like this, if people believe they have control over their time and that the company has a good philosophy, it helps morale," says Cynthia Trudell, senior vice president and head of personnel at PepsiCo. "And remember you want the best and the brightest when you're going through difficult times."
So, what happens when you combine all that swooning over our gender with the fact that most of us want to avoid a grim robotic march to a chilly top? You've got the recipe for a megatrend we call: