Rundles wrap up: The business world is getting smarter

As a business writer for many years, I have met a ton of people, and the thing that just amazes me these days is how smart everyone seems to be, especially the young ones (which admittedly, for me, is a wide slice). I keep meeting bright, accomplished, energetic, creative, hard-working and dedicated people with knowledge in their particular specialty that my peers and I could have only aspired to 30 years ago. The world is just so complicated now, and I find these young people so impressive that working with them/competing against them would be challenging indeed, not to mention an amazing education.

I think the reason for this gigantic uptick in intelligence and expertise can be explained with one word: women.

It’s not that women are by and large smarter than men; they’re not. But their sizable presence in banking, law, accounting, high tech, et al, and especially entrepreneurial business formation, does, in my estimation, elevate the overall talent pool, and has meant that the guys in these younger generations have had to up their game compared with us older men. I firmly believe that the increasing numbers of women coming into professional fields over the last few decades has brought incalculable benefits to us all.

It wasn’t as though there were no females in the working world 30-plus years ago. My mentor long ago was a woman, but she was an anomaly. Back then, mostly through tradition and inertia, women were rare in business. The year my class graduated from college, 1974, women made up only 10 percent of in-coming law students. Today women make up 50 percent, and we see similar numbers, and increases, for women in medical and business schools. Female participation could be better in sciences and engineering, but there is improvement. We have nearly doubled the available talent over the last three decades – delivering much more impressive people, both men and women, to the work force.

Oh sure, there was – and is – prejudice and discrimination concerning the participation of women, but look around: There is shattered glass everywhere. The encouraging development on this front is what I see in the younger generations. I have both sons and daughters in the early parts of their careers, pursuing a variety of professional endeavors, and my sense is that the whole male/female thing in the work world – an often heated discussion in the 1970s and ‘80s – is a nonissue. There’s no doubt that women belong. If they are in their 20s or 30s, the peer group – co-workers and clients alike – is generally gender mixed, and that fact is remarkably unremarkable. 

The interesting thing is that when you go up the age bracket you still see more firsts concerning women in the “real” world. In January, Mary Barra became the first woman to be named CEO of General Motors. In February, Janet Yellen became the first woman to head up the Federal Reserve Bank. Closer to home, global engineering and construction company CH2M Hill brought on Jacqueline Hinman as CEO at the start of this year. These events made extra news simply because of the gender. When their younger sisters and daughters rise to leadership, gender won’t be mentioned.

That just might be the most groundbreaking event on the gender front. Ever. Our sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, won’t even notice. It’ll be so unremarkable then that I thought I would go on record now about how remarkable it will be.