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Why the office alpha male will soon be extinct

The share of women with university degrees has shot past men over the past four decades. This educational edge for women is translating into a gradual takeover of key professions. They now make up 54 per cent of accountants, 60 per cent of pharmacists, 45 per cent of lawyers and a third of doctors.

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Women are still badly underrepresented in North American board rooms and executive suites.

They head just three per cent of Fortune 500 companies and fill less than 10 per cent of Canadian corporate board seats.

But BMO Financial Group chief economist Sherry Cooper says women are mounting a quiet challenge to male dominance of broader workplace culture because they're more educated. And men better get used to it.

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"Success in the future will require young men and male-dominated corporations to adapt quickly to the growing global competition of young women and female dominated businesses," she pointed out in a research note.

Even within male bastions such as financial services, women are breaking through, Ms. Cooper said.

"I began my economics career as pretty much the only woman in the room – from graduate school to the Fed, to Bay Street," she said. "The alpha-male attitude of the 'boys-locker-room type' trading floors has largely morphed into a bastion of quants and geeks with many more women doing serious trading and analysis."

In higher education, women are taking over. In a complete gender reversal, the share of women with university degrees has shot past men over the past four decades. Thirty-four per cent of women now have university degrees, versus just 26 per cent of men.

Sixty per cent of graduating BA and Masters student are now women, as are half of new PhDs.

Woman are also moving into a wide range of traditionally male jobs, while men are shunning traditional female occupations, she pointed out. Among the consequences: men were more likely than women to lose their jobs in the last recession. And women in their 20s now earn more than men.

From 1970 to 2007, earnings for women are up 44 per cent and just 6 per cent for men.

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The educational edge for women is translating into a gradual takeover of key professions. They now make up 54 per cent of accountants, 60 per cent of pharmacists, 45 per cent of lawyers and a third of doctors. More than half of small business owners are women, Mr. Cooper reports.

Ms. Cooper argues the alpha-male mentality is losing its relevance in the post-industrial economy of the 21st century.

"What worked on a battlefield – or during a genuine crisis – is not appropriate in today's business environment," Ms. Cooper argues. "Alpha-male characteristics carried to an extreme, such as dominance, aggression, bullying and a winner-take-all mindset cause damage."

What's valued now, she says, are individuals who are fluid, adaptable, flexible, agile and intuitive. Businesses that don't adjust to the new reality won't attract and retain top talent, "and ultimately fail," according to Ms. Cooper.

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About the Author
National Business Correspondent

Barrie McKenna is correspondent and columnist in The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau. From 1997 until 2010, he covered Washington from The Globe's bureau in the U.S. capital. During his U.S. posting, he traveled widely, filing stories from more than 30 states. Mr. McKenna has also been a frequent visitor to Japan and South Korea on reporting assignments. More

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