Several years ago, my friend, Dr. Jed Diamond explained how masculine acculturation was creating a huge obstacle for men in the workforce: both young and old. As the world moves from an industrial model to a "post-industrial" (or knowledge-based) economy, the skill sets most in demand evolve away from brute strength (construction and manufacturing) and systems and problem-solving (engineering, etc.) and toward sharing, empathy, and networking. These last are the very skills that have traditionally been beaten out of the males of our western culture. Those men who, in the past, have dared to develop their "feminine" side have paid dearly with their self-esteem (dancers, artists, decorators, florists, etc., etc.). As a result, the driving force behind our economic engine is reflecting the skills that empower it: it's becoming decidedly female.

Now, we find ourselves plunged in a global recession. As national economies falter, one after another, and the world-wide demand for goods and services dries up, companies cut back on staff and unemployment skyrockets. Who are these people being laid off? They are overwhelmingly male. The bulk of the male job market remains focused in traditionally 'macho' corners of the economy; and these are exactly the corners that are losing jobs at a frightening pace. In a well-publicized article last week, The New York Times reported that fully 82% of the job losses in this current recession have affected male workers.

Here's a quote from that article:

The proportion of women who are working has changed very little since the recession started. But a full 82 percent of the job losses have befallen men, who are heavily represented in distressed industries like manufacturing and construction. Women tend to be employed in areas like education and health care, which are less sensitive to economic ups and downs, and in jobs that allow more time for child care and other domestic work.

Even The New York Times doesn't fully appreciate the impact of shift away from 'macho' work in the workforce. It's not only in "education and health care" (where women predominate) that women are maintaining their employment. The 'feminine' makes up the core of the entire knowledge industry: their networking and interactive skills are now the economic foundation for the Western world. Day by day, 'muscle' and theoretical problem-solving become more and more irrelevant. The Times article seems to assume that, once the recession is over, men will be flooding back into the workforce. To a certain extent that's bound to be true. On the other hand, they'll never return to the preeminence that they once held in the marketplace. Those places have either been eliminated or they're already taken.

We have to face up to the facts that — once the construction workers and machinists have gone back to their jobs — the remaining men in the workforce are going to face more than just re-training. What's going to have to happen is nothing short of re-acculturation. Without a redefinition of what it means to be a man in the 21st Century, a large segment of our workforce will very likely find itself unemployable. I can't foresee that our culture will ever have re-acculturation programs to parallel the job-training programs of the last century. Re-acculturation is a process that's going to have to rely on individual initiative, guided by the foresight of some intellectual visionaries like Dr. Diamond.

There are some people — and I believe that I'm one of them — who believe that this process should be going on right now (before the job market reopens). We're writing about it and putting together programs to assist men who stand at the turning point, facing the prospect of reinventing themselves from the inside out. For example, Marcus Buckingham (of the Gallup organization and author of First, Break All the Rules and Now Discover Your Strengths), in an interview broadcast just last night, suggested that people could use the time during the downturn to reinvent themselves and refocus their energies into more socially-aware outlets (note the focus on social empathy and networking). The handwriting is on the wall. Those who want to thrive in the new economy would do well to take careful note.

Author's Bio: 

H. Les Brown, MA, CFCC grew up in an entrepreneurial family and has been an entrepreneur for most of his life. He is the author of The Frazzled Entrepreneur's Guide to Having It All. Les is a certified Franklin Covey coach and a certified Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Effectiveness coach. He has Masters Degrees in philosophy and theology from the University of Ottawa. His experience includes ten years in the ministry and over fifteen years in corporate management. His expertise as an innovator and change strategist has enabled him to develop a program that allows his clients to effect deep and lasting change in their personal and professional lives.