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Video: Women helping fuel economic comeback

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    >>> we're covering america at a crossroads here this week. and tonight the landmark that has happened slowly. just as there are now more women in college than men, women now make up most of the managerial and professional jobs. kate snow tonight has our look at this change at the office and in american life .

    >> have a good day at the office.

    >> reporter: in hindsight, it's not hard to see.

    >> clients would rather deal with men when it comes to figures.

    >> oh, now we're getting it.

    >> reporter: in film as in real life , the role of the american working woman has undergone an extreme makeover .

    >> your incompetence do not interest me.

    >> take advertising, if you make the right move --

    >> reporter: the days of mad men are long gone.

    >> everyone's perspective is valued in the company.

    >> reporter: at a training session for new employees in new york, you can't help but notice all the estrogen in the room.

    >> have a seat.

    >> reporter: she has never felt held back by her gender. ten years ago she got excited about a new frontier in advertising. now she oversees daj tdigital projects.

    >> there was never a point in time where i thought i could never do this.

    >> reporter: women are now the backbone of the economy. about 60% of them work making up half the workforce and moving into middle management . 75% of the women say they make the shopping decisions so they're the consumers too. and 40% of working women are the primary bread winners for their family.

    >> maybe growing up in a different generation. it doesn't bother me.

    >> reporter: it makes sense. you don't need rosie the riveter muscles to land a job in brain power . in fact females hold the majority of the positions in the five fields expected to grow the most in the next decade. it's changing the bottom line today. david ross did a comprehensive study of over 2,000 of the largest u.s. companies. 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. in certain kinds of tasks, that can have a significant impact.

    >> reporter: the top tiers of the hotel industry used to be a men's club but here almost half of the managers are women , thanks in part to a mentoring program founded by the female president nearly 15 years ago. the president says it makes a difference in the culture of the organization. in the '90s she was nicknamed the terminator, felt she had to manage like a man. no more.

    >> i could be as tough as a man and at the same time show compassion and create an inclusive work environment.

    >> reporter: it's why business schools are teaching about empathetic leadership. it's why norway has mandated that corporate boards be 40% female. of course for women in america it's not all rosie. a new projection shows women won't make the same salaries as men until the year 2056 . still, things are changing. she seize a clear path for her 5-year-old daughter.

    >> my mother was a full-time pediatrician. i'm a full-time working mom. i have no doubt that she will be pr brilliant in whatever she does and that she will be a working woman.

    >> reporter: and 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. kate snow , nbc news, new york.

Image: Kate Snow
By Kate Snow
NBC News
updated 3/4/2011 9:05:23 PM ET 2011-03-05T02:05:23

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.

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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.

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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.

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"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.

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Timeline: The history-making moments of women's history

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