Talking Womenomics with Claire Shipman and Katty Kay

Flexibility at work “isn’t like a favor you hand out at a children’s birthday party.” It’s good for business and good for people.

“For the past 30 years [women] were happy to sit quietly at the boardroom table and that’s changed: the boardroom table has to change. We think that can finally happen now.”

These were the key messages shared by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, who together have written Womenomics. It’s no. 10 on the New York Times Bestseller list, so it’s clearly resonating. Shipman and Kay spent 90 minutes with Families and Work Institute staff and Corporate Leadership Council members.

Born of a friendship—they talk about “whispering in corners at cocktail parties in Washington” about their desire to manage work and family—both Shipman and Kay note they have other priorities other than a “climb up the ladder,” although they certainly excel in their work. They wanted successful careers but they also wanted time for family. And so they negotiated with their own employers. I was so surprised to hear that Claire Shipman, a famous new anchor, accepted a pay cut to work fewer hours! In their new book, they share personal lessons, results from research (including the FWI National Study of the Changing Workforce and interviews with Ellen Galinsky) and interviews with corporate leaders and employees.

Kay and Shipman stress that their approach is good for men, too, but that it’s vital for women.  Depressed by the “opt out revolution” argument, the authors embrace the controversial notion that women work and manage differently: and that’s a good thing. Women, they say, have somewhat different values of what women want at work.  Claire Shipman: “We are willing to say no to things in a way that men (at least of our generation) are not. And we’re saying that the workplace is changing to fit that.” She continued, “The case we’re trying to make with Womenomics is that women have so much more power in the workplace than they even understand.” We can use this power to help ourselves, and companies. Research shows that the more senior level women in the company, the more money the company makes.

Kay noted they encountered some skepticism from older women- the pioneers who’d “had to put their heads down and work.”  Some of these women felt

“you’re telling women not to aim high, to just opt out. But we came to a different conclusion: this is real feminism. If we can create a work world where women’s needs are genuinely met rather than a world where women are trying to be men, that’s real power. We empower workers, and empower families, it doesn’t need to be seen as non-feminist.…We’re not saying people don’t want to work; they just want to control the hours they have to be in the office.”

Shipman believes flexibility “is something that will keep women in the workforce. It’s a positive way to keep our talent engaged. It’s not about opting out for ten years, or either or choices… The other real business case about all this is that the companies that do this see much higher productivity.”

It’s a familiar story: women taking themselves out of the running for major jobs because they are not willing to make children and family life pay a price.   But Ellen Galinsky pointed out that FWI’s research actually shows that men are now less ambitious- she sees men making changes to take family responsibilities. Indeed, the 2008 NCSW shows that men and women are both less likely to embrace traditional gender roles. Only 41% of employees in 2008 believe it is better “if the man earns the money and the woman takes care of the home and children,” down from 64% in 1977.  The drop is even more pronounced among men (74% to 42% versus 52% to 39% of women). Now there is no statistical difference between men and women in their views.

Plus, employed fathers, especially Millennials, are spending more time with children today than their age counterparts did three decades ago, where as employed mothers’ time has not changed significantly. Roles are shifting, and work with it.

What about the recession? Shipman cites her interview with Sara Lee CEO Brenda Barnes who “said to me, “’companies can’t afford not to look at this now.’

Shipman added, “We need this now more than ever, to retain talent, when we don’t have cash on hand. The case we’re trying to make to women is it might seem like it’s scary to ask [for a new way to work] but it’s not if you’re making a strong business case to your employer. This is a business strategy. Letting people work the way they work makes sense and it will benefit the bottom line.” It’s not a perk.

The authors cite the example of rising CapitalOne executive Chandra Dhandapani who said of her employees: I don’t care when they work or where. I set them very clear goals. She sets what she calls brief, goal-oriented “10-10” meetings: each week a check in to ask, how are you progressing towards your targets? The executive herself says she spends only about 20-25 hours in the office each week, and is “a better, more productive employee.” Noted Shipman, “We are going to sneak out the back door to go to that parent teacher conference anyway….what if we didn’t need to ask for permission?”

We are more and more comfortable saying we’re not going to work this way and we can do a good job without asking for permission to live our lives. How do Kay and Shipman suggest you make it happen at your workplace? We will discuss that in part two of this post.

This piece was written by Morra Aarons Mele, a blogger who often writes about the intersection of work and family. For more information see

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6 Responses to Talking Womenomics with Claire Shipman and Katty Kay

  1. Pingback: Jumping back on the ladder- a conversation with Harvard’s Christine Heenan | Families and Work Institute Blog

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  6. Could this be a sign of a maturing knowledge workforce where both employers and employees are testing the waters to finally give up the believe that keeping people on a short chain is the only way to control what they produce.
    I always wondered why employers were so afraid to discern for themselves if staff still produced away from the office or when working less hours. If they know their business it would be obvious, wouldn’t it? I think we as women also need to support the employer to deal with our changing requests and preempt their fears and inability to deal with their confusion and insecurity in these vasly changing times. It also is a ‘hassle’ to change the status quo and it requires energy that people are not always willing to spend on issues like this.
    If everybody gave up mistrusting everyone and started to believe that most of us do want to add value, we could have a total different discussion when it comes to coordinating the demands of work and life.
    However I find it a very important one to have.

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