Editor’s Note: This week, NBC is taking a look at America's challenges and opportunities. As part of the series, "America at the Crossroads," NBC's Kate Snow explores how women are changing the marketplace because they hold more college degrees and are taking over the labor force.
At a recent training session for new employees at the Ogilvy ad agency in New York, you couldn't help but notice all the estrogen in the room.
- Leighton Meester to Make Broadway Debut with James Franco
- Aron Ralston, Whose Story Inspired 127 Hours, Arrested for Domestic Violence
- Britney Spears Talks Style, Body Image and ... Pregnancy Sex?!
- Katy Perry on Motherhood: 'I'm Definitely Not There Yet'
- The Real Housewives of Atlanta: Kandi Burruss Stars in Real-Life Bride Wars
Preeti Shah has never felt held back by her gender. Ten years ago she got excited about a new frontier in advertising. Now she oversees digital projects at Ogilvy.Story: The history-making moments of women's history
"There was never a point in time where I thought I couldn't do this," she said.
America at the Crossroads: The Series
- Nightly News: Men falling behind women
- In the classroom, girls ‘flew by’ boys
- College students address realities of gender gap
- Nightly News: Women backbone of U.S. economy
- Women understand 'what's going to motivate people'
- Nightly News: U.S. losing immigrant brainpower
- Kunal Bahl video extra: 'I didn't have an option'
- Tough choices for 'financially distressed' city
- Finding the 'next big thing' to create jobs
- Do you need a job? Then get some skills
Shah is an example of how the role of the American working woman has undergone an extreme makeover.
Women are now the backbone of the U.S. economy. About 60 percent of them work, and they comprise 46 percent of the labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Women now occupy 51 percent of managerial and professional jobs, up from 26 percent in 1980. More women are graduating from college than men. Seventy-five percent of women say they make the shopping decisions, so they're the consumers too.Video: Women helping fuel economic comeback (on this page)
And like Shah, 40 percent of working women are the primary breadwinners for their families.
That kind of change is transforming not just the workplace but it's having a profound effect on the economy.
It makes sense. You don't need Rosie the Riveter muscles to land a job in industries driven by brain power.
Females hold the majority of positions in the five fields expected to grow the most over the next decade: nursing, customer service, food and beverage, personal aide and health aide.
All that change is changing the bottom line, too.
David Ross, a professor at Columbia Business School, did a comprehensive study of over 2,000 of the largest U.S. companies found companies performed significantly better when they had women in the management ranks than when they did not.
“On average women may approach management in a more democratic, less dictatorial, more collaborative manner than men,” Ross said. “And on certain kinds of tasks that can have a significant impact on the performance of an entire organization.”
The top tiers of the hotel industry used to be a men's club. But at Kimpton Hotels about half of the managers are now women thanks in part to a mentoring program founded by the female president nearly 15 years ago.Video: Women understand 'what's going to motivate people' (on this page)
Kimpton President Niki Leondakis says it makes a difference in the culture of the organization. In the '90s she was nicknamed "The Terminator." She felt she had to manage like a man. No more.
"I started to realize I could be as tough as a man and at the same time show compassion and be a good listener and create an inclusive work environment," Leondakis said.
It's why business schools are teaching about empathetic leadership.
It's why Norway has mandated that corporate boards be 40 percent female.
Of course for women in America, it's not all rosy.
A new projection by the Institute For Women's Policy Research for NBC News shows women won't make the same salaries as men until 2056.
In the Fortune 500, there are still only 15 female CEOs.
Still things are changing. It may not be perfect, or easy, but Shah sees a clear path for her 5-year-old daughter.
Only on NBCNews.com
- From belief to betrayal: How America fell for Armstrong
- US to Syria neighbors: Be ready to act on WMDs
- China: One-child policy is here to stay
- New 'Practice Range' shooter game says it’s from NRA
- 'Gifted' priest indicted in crystal meth case
- China's state media admits to air pollution crisis
- French to send 1,000 more troops to Mali
"My mother was a full-time pediatrician; I'm a full-time working mom," Shah said. "I have no doubt that she will be brilliant at whatever she does and that she will be a working woman."
Eventually all those little girls who grow up to work in a more equitable job environment will tip the scales even further, joining the generations of women who are already an engine for this new economy.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints