Women and Work: ‘It’s About Creating Something New’

By Diane Merlino

Today’s working women “realize it’s not about learning to play by men’s rules,” says Maddy Dychtwald. “It’s about creating something new.”

Dychtwald, cofounder and senior vice president of Age Wave, a research and consulting firm that focuses on the implications of population aging, outlines her case for the transformative new rules women have brought to the work world in her book, Influence: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power Will Transform Our World for the Better (Hyperion Books, 2010).

“I don’t want for a minute to suggest that it’s about outdoing men, because that’s not what it’s about at all,” Dychtwald told Travel Weekly PLUS. “It’s about coming up with a new construct that’s better for men and better for women. Something that they can both be happier with, where there is a level playing field and a lot of equality.”

This is the third and final excerpt from the dialogue. 

Merlino: Based on all the research and interviews you’ve done for your book and for other studies, are you convinced that women’s rising financial power is having a positive impact on the economy?
Yes, I am. Earlier, we talked about how back in the 1980s, women in leadership positions often felt very competitive and weren’t very helpful to each other. That’s really changed. A lot of women I interviewed from that era said, “That’s how I used to think, but it’s not like that anymore.”

Now these women are reaching out to help other women — daughters, sisters, friends, and colleagues inside their /uploadedImages/TW_Plus/xTW_Plus_Images_ONLY/Maddy Dychtwald HS2130x170LP.jpgcompanies — and they’re looking further afield, on a global level. That’s a really important point. You don’t have to look far to see examples of women in the U.S. banding together to help women in other countries. There are millions of signs of that going on. 

Q: This sounds like a sea change.
I think it is. And as part of it, we may have to come up with a new system for measuring our economic success, which has always been based on consumerism. Now, we’re seeing a lot more ups and downs than we used to in the economy, so a lot of women are saying, “I want a little piece of mind, so I’m going for safety and security versus seeing how much money I can spend.” So we may have to go back to the drawing table and find new ways of measuring our economic success as women take on stronger roles in our economy and our society. 

Q: That is a great point. I think we all need to do the same thing on an individual level — come up with new definitions of what it means to have a successful life.
Absolutely. By the way, we are seeing young people do just that, getting rid of the old definitions they don’t like.

I do a lot of work with the generations. I just did a whole presentation on the four generations in the workplace and how they’re affecting housing. That was really interesting. We found there is a big movement toward multigenerational families living under one roof, so builders are constructing houses differently in response. These kinds of changes are happening in our society. It’s all about coming up with new ways of doing things.

Q: Do you have any other examples?
I’ve done a tremendous amount of research in the world of financial services. It used to be that the vast majority of clients doing financial planning were guys, so it was all about bulls and bears, and let’s see how much money we can make you. Since women have been doing better economically, we’re finding couples are making decisions /uploadedImages/TW_Plus/xTW_Plus_Images_ONLY/Influence Cover 3D.jpgtogether which is way more complicated in every possible way. And, of course, you have single women who are making financial decisions for themselves.

One of the things that financial companies and advisers have learned about working with women is that women do a lot of research. They do not shoot from the hip the way many men do. A lot of financial advisers are very put off by that because it takes a lot longer to make decisions, and it kind of screws up their process, if you will. But we’re even seeing the financial services industry begin to transform itself — “migrate” might be a better word — based on the reality that there are a lot more women investors now.  

Q: You’ve said that young people, male and female, will be the ones to solidify and expand on the workplace innovations established by women.
I think that’s true. Young people have really different attitudes toward families and the work/family dynamic.

When I was doing interviews for my book, I did focus groups with men of all different ages. When we asked what they felt about staying at home with the kids while their wife worked, in every case we found that young men would say, “I wouldn’t mind being the stay-at home parent. I want to spend time with my kids. I think it would be great if I married a woman who was very successful in her career and we split the work.”

The mindset is really shifting. Look at the [2012 presidential] election; it’s a perfect example. Women’s influence on the election was incredibly strong and dynamic. The Obama campaign got it. They understood the core issues for women, and they made some very interesting choices along the way because of that understanding. Forget the politics of if, whether you liked Obama or Romney. The Romney campaign just didn’t get what drove most women to make decisions. I think his overall politics might have resonated better with women if he had a little better sensibility of what their values, characteristics and driving perspectives were. This includes young people — young men, too — because there’s a lot of confluence between those two groups.  

ALSO SEE:Women’s Influence Generates a Workplace Retrofit

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