Shannon Kelley

Shannon Kelley
Santa Barbara, California, USA
June 11
Shannon Kelley and her mother Barbara Kelley are both journalists, and have just written a book called "Undecided". Together. (...Right??) This blog is a taste of what you'll find in "Undecided", a book about choice overload, analysis paralysis, grass is greener syndrome, longing for the road not traveled, and how the success of the women’s movement has left women stumped in the face of limitless options — and how to get over it. The book comes out on May 3: if you like what you're reading here, get the book here: And subscribe to our blog here:


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JULY 14, 2011 11:32AM

When the Jobs Come Back, Will the Girls Get Sent Home?

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The new buzzword is “He-covery”. That’s the term the New York Times’ Catherine Rampell  and others use to characterize the new numbers on our so-called economic recovery. Cute the way we use gender terms to nickname serious issues, isn’t it?

In case you’ve forgotten, the recession was dubbed the “mancession,” because the menfolk had lost the majority of the jobs, leading to a workplace that was finally gender-equal.  But, as a new report from the Pew Center has shown, since the recovery started, men have picked up some three-quarters of a million jobs.  Their sisters have lost close to a quarter of a million. Welcome back to the gender gap: Pew found that men “have fared better than women in all but one of 16 major sectors of the economy identified in this report.” Here’s a taste:

The recovery from the Great Recession is not off to a good start for women. From June 2009, when the recession ended, to May 2011, women have lost 218,000 jobs, with their employment level falling from 65.1 million to 64.9 million. Men, however, are finding new jobs in the recovery. Their employment level increased from 65.4 million in June 2009 to 66.1 million in May 2011, a gain of 768,000 jobs. Since 1970, this is the first two-year period into an economic recovery in which women have lost jobs even as men have gained them.

Now, the easy explanation would be to assume that job growth is occurring in the, you know, manly sector: construction, mining, manufacturing, the heavy-lifting kinds of jobs.  But what’s curious here is that men are also outscoring women in retail, professional and business services, education and health services (traditionally a female domain), hospitality and the federal government.  And when it comes to jobs lost, men have also won the jackpot, losing fewer jobs than women in utilities, information services and finance.

What gives? Pew can’t figure out the explanation for the gender discrepancy, and neither can anyone else. But what I wonder is whether we’re simply unwilling to suggest that the emperor has no clothes.  If women are losing ground even in traditionally female sectors, isn’t it possible there’s a little bit of gender discrimination at play? There I’ve said it. Mea culpa.

As one quick example, let’s look at the maternal wall:  studies have shown that women are penalized and considered less promotable because of family committments.   As University of Illinois management professor Jenny Hoobler found, this holds true even when women have no kids — and don’t plan on having any.  We interviewed Hoobler for our book, and here’s what she told us:

[Her study showed] “this lingering stereotype that women aren’t as dedicated to their careers because they are or will at some point take the primary responsibility for caregiving in the family.  What we found was that even when women did not have did not have children, did not have an elderly parent to care for, didn’t have a sick spouse, their bosses still felt  that they had higher conflict between the family and work than their male counterparts did.

“People think that this is something that has gone away. I think there is a misconception when you are talking about workers with kids that male and female parents share equally the responsibilities for the home but many research studies have shown recently that that is not the case.  While men are doing a lot more that their fathers did a generation ago, in dual career families, women are bearing the lion’s share of the caring of people in the home.  But what our study showed was that even when women DID NOT have those responsibilities, their bosses felt that they still did.”

We also found a study on fathers showing that, conversely, having a baby enhanced their self-image at work, in terms of reputation, credibility and even career options. He became a family man, as in “What a guy”!

Now I would be the last to suggest that the reason for the so-called He-covery is the fact that, all things being equal, empl0yers prefer men over women and hire accordingly. Nor would any boss cop to that. But it makes you think, right?  And the irony is that, at 77 cents on the dollar, women are good for the bottom line.

And even when we women made up half of the workforce, we were hardly taking home half of the pay. As The Nation’s Katha Pollitt wrote, back in 2009, when women first achieved workplace parity:

It is indeed remarkable that women are half the workforce, but there’d be more to cheer about if they also earned an equal share of the pay. It may be easier to find a job as a home health aide than a welder, but male jobs tend to pay a lot more than female ones (and, one might add, do not involve a lot of deferential smiling).

Deferential smiling. Wonder if the guys are good at that?

Tagged: catherine rampell, economic recovery, he-covery, Jenny Hoobler, Katha Pollitt, mancession, maternal wall, pew center

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Great piece, full of all too painful truths. Thank you for writing this important story.

The more things change, the more they never do.
"And the irony is that, at 77 cents on the dollar, women are good for the bottom line."

This implies that women make 77 percent of what men make for the same job. But I believe that figure includes everyone who works even a few hours a week. If there are more women working part-time, then their part-time jobs will bring down the average compensation for all women.
This has so much the ring of a very hard truth.
I expect the women will return to the lesser paying jobs if there ever is any strong recovery in this economy..... If....
We've come a long way, but there's still a ways to go.
I've never heard the terms, "he-covery," or "mancession," before. Either I've got to get out more, or the definition of what classifies as a buzz-word has changed significantly.

Interesting post, though. You just threw me with an opening that made me feel like I lived in a different country, or a different time than you do.
In the end, there is social pressure to do certain things that seems to be rooted rather deeply, which can certainly be unfun on the short end of that stick, although in the aggregate, I tend to think this is human nature, which again, in lots, lots of individual cases, grossly unfair, starting with the fact that taking care of children does not make you stupid, although we don't act like that.
The sad truth is that it is hard to have a high-powered career and kids. In two parent families, one parent can be reaching for that brass ring and the other holding down the fort. My experience is that the demands of pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing make the mother much more forcibly aware of the conflict. Try focusing in a top management meeting when you have morning sickness.

As a result, in two career families, the wife is often much readier to take the back seat when the babies arrive and the parents discover that juggling two demanding careers and a baby is a lot harder than they anticipated.

What is depressing for me is that by becoming a stay-at-home Mom and allowing my husband to focus on his career, we have a much higher income and net worth than if we shared parenting more equally and made more equal career sacrifices.

As it was, despite having a housekeeper willing to stay over night with my daughter, my husband lost his annual bonus (1/3 of salary) when my son was hospitalized overnight, terrified and I got a stomach bug and couldn't get out of bed and my husband spent the day at the hospital texting his staff rather than in the office in a very important meeting.

His new boss was a jerk; my husband found a better job and successfully sued for the bonus, but the incident is illustrative.