When we started writing this book, women friends and colleagues would say nervously, as they watched Wall Street struggle to stay afloat, “Wow, that’s great news about our clout in the business world, but what happens in a recession? Doesn’t that mean we all have to go back to keeping our noses to the grindstone and feeling grateful for having any job at all? Won’t bad economic times make it impossible to negotiate?”
Well, no. Do you see the baby boomers getting younger, or those Gen X and Yers suddenly getting older and more experienced overnight? The talent shortage is bigger, broader, and deeper than any one economic cycle. No economist can create a workforce out of thin air. Womenomics is here to stay.
For the accounting firm Kingery & Crouse, flexibility trumps recession. Would Kingery suddenly revert to more traditional nine-to-six work patterns? “No,” said marketing director Lori Rodriguez, “flexibility is bigger than that.”
Tom Mars, the executive vice president and chief administrative officer of Wal-Mart, a company known for its keen-eyed study of the future, says the trend is here to stay for all companies that don’t want to become dinosaurs. “There’s no doubt in my mind,” he says, “that companies who don’t recognize the need to change and adopt programs like this will in short order become another Eastman Kodak.”
Moreover, he says, it makes even more sense now. “Look, in this sort of economy, it’s the time to be smart,” he explains. “We need to be productive and efficient. And working flexibly and being flexible is free—in many ways it’s priceless.”
So tougher economic times could be the perfect moment for your cash-strapped company to get creative about reducing its salary costs. If you can offer to save them 20 percent of your salary and benefits by shifting to a four-day week, they may leap at the chance in a way they didn’t need to in boom times. Or even if you don’t want to cut your hours, you might still be able to bargain for flexibility that you couldn’t get before. During a recession your company may not be able to offer you a raise, but one easy way your company can compensate is to provide the option of working at home one day a week. “For some businesses that need to do so, offering flexible work opportunities to people who want them could enable them to cut staffing or overhead costs without having to make layoffs,” notes a spokeswoman for the British swimwear company Bravissimo. “Our research shows that part-time and flexible workers are happier, more engaged with their work and therefore more likely to perform better and be more productive.”23
Of course, you have to take your company’s current business needs into account, and we will talk about the savviest ways to use this economic power later. Remember, women could well be the solution to both America’s talent and labor shortages and to its short-term economic problems. Womenomics offers employers the possibility of higher productivity and even cost savings. It’s not only “recession proof” but also “recession friendly.”