Book review: The End of Men, by Hanna Rosin

Women are more adaptable and so better able to succeed in our fast-changing workplaces. It's an argument that left Heather McGregor with mixed feelings.

by Heather McGregor
Last Updated: 09 Nov 2012

I have three sons and no daughters, so I approached this book with some trepidation. The inside front cover has a list of worrying statistics showing that women are learning faster, earning more and performing better than men all over the world. My children will clearly struggle to make their way in the world and rather than cajole and coerce them into academic and workplace achievements I should be trying a whole different tack and just encouraging them to marry well. On reflection, the £2,500 I spent on my oldest son's orthodontic treatment, which has given him a film star smile, was clearly a much better investment than any of the money spent on his school fees.

Of course, statistics are only ever as powerful as the person selecting them wants them to be. As a founder member of the steering committee of the 30% Club, the organisation that works to improve the representation of women on boards, I am only too aware that the fairer sex remains firmly in the minority at the top of companies. If you count only executive directors, they could be described as being so rare they are almost an endangered species. So I am not sure that men are totally on the way out. After all, we need them to produce the next generation, and I for one rather like having chairs pulled out, doors opened and having the restaurant bill taken care of, so I am all for having men around.

Hanna Rosin's book is a very readable if somewhat alarming narrative describing how and why women are taking over the world. It is not a feminist rant and uses a combination of hard facts (the aforementioned statistics, eg, 60% of college graduates in the US are now female) and personal stories to make her case. Her central theme, developed early in the book, is that women are more adaptable and cope better with change than men, including the changing nature of work.

There are echoes here of The Shift, by Professor Lynda Gratton, which showed that work and careers are going to be totally different from how they were in the past. Women are going to manage the shift better, Rosin thinks, and describes women as being made of plastic. This is not a reference to Katie Price or her like, but an analogy for women's strengths in coping with change.

Men, on the other hand, are given a 'cardboard' analogy, because in her opinion they find change so difficult. This, Rosin says, is why they are getting left behind.

Things are so bad in the US (and this is quite, although not exclusively, a US-centric book) that private universities are apparently engaging in positive discrimination to ensure that their male/female balance remains 50:50.

And she has interviewed people such as Jennifer Delahunty Britz, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Kenyon College in Ohio, who say that girls make a lot of effort while boys tend to let their mothers do all the work around college admission. 'Sometimes we say "what a nice essay his Mom wrote",' Delahunty remarked to Rosin.

Ms Rosin has two sons and says she does not want to be one of those mothers. I suspect that I already am. This term, I have already battled on an almost daily basis with my 17-year-old second son while he does his personal statement for his UK university application form, finishes a 5,000 word so-called 'Extended Project Qualification' and sits his SATs in advance of his US application. I have always believed that instant obedience and deferred gratification are things that my children should learn.

Rosin agrees and says 'a consensus is forming that the qualities most predictive of academic success are the ones that have always made up the good girl stereotype: self-discipline and the ability to delay gratification. In other words, the ability to spend long hours doing your homework before you take out the PlayStation.'

Although she has interviewed many game-changing women at the top of their particular game (Tina Brown and Sheryl Sandberg, to name but two), what makes this book very readable are the personal stories of those who are less well known. Rosin has interviewed women from all walks of life (I was particularly interested in the ones studying to be pharmacists) and bookends her work with the story of a young couple with a child. The mother is working as a glamour model and striptease artist while studying. The father, in case you couldn't guess, pulls his weight rather less. In her conclusion, she says that her research has led her 'to start raising my two sons differently. Even if it's against their "nature", I want to teach them to bend.'

This book is entertaining, informative and contains many sentiments with which I wholeheartedly agree. 'If women want the future to contain fewer energy-draining meetings and a more family-friendly workplace,' Rosin says, 'you need more women to make it to Sheryl Sandberg's level.' Hear, hear. But is it required management reading? I think not, other than perhaps for the mothers of sons.

The End of Men: And the rise of women

Hanna Rosin

Viking, £12.99

Heather McGregor is the author of Mrs Moneypenny's Careers Advice for Ambitious Women (Portfolio Penguin, £16.99) and is the managing director of executive search firm Taylor Bennett.

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