Women taking charge Author foresees progress from politics to fashion


For her best-selling books "Megatrends" and "Megatrends 2000," Patricia Aburdene charted new courses through the oceans of surveys, statistics and news items that threaten to engulf the American mind.

Now the social forecaster has navigated the subject of women's future.

"Megatrends for Women," (Villard Books, $22.50), which Ms. Aburdene wrote with her husband and collaborator John Naisbitt, predicts women's advances in areas ranging from politics to religion while summarizing their progress to date. With sections on sports, careers, family, health, spirituality, fashion and social activism, the book gives a powerful impression of how women have changed society as well as anticipating the next stage of transformation.

Ms. Aburdene will speak on "Megatrends for Women" tomorrow at a breakfast meeting of Network 2000, a newly formed women's organization designed to advance the representation of women on corporate and civic boards throughout Maryland.

Key among the predictions: A woman president by 2008.

"My theory is that the first woman president is going to be a successful two-term governor rather than a senator, partly because Washington is so incumbency-ridden," Ms. Aburdene said recently from her office in Cambridge, Mass.

"Women are going to have a bit of the hard time in Washington, but early in the next century, say 2003, we will be represented by around 30 percent women across the board: senators, congresspersons and governors."

She also believes more women will become priests and more congregations will reject the idea that God is male; women will no longer pay attention to the rail-thin dictums of fashion designers; women's health issues -- such as menopause and breast cancer -- will become more prominent; spouses will share parenting responsibilities more evenly as companies acknowledge employees' need for flexibility and more husbands and wives will team up in financial ventures.

The world she describes is driven by the needs, inclinations and dreams of the women born after World War II, such women as Hillary Rodham Clinton -- and 45-year-old Pat Aburdene.

"This book really reflects my life, my values and my interests more so than the other Megatrends books," she said. "It comes from seeing and knowing that the women of my generation are every bit as competent as men in politics and in business. It comes from having that somewhat subjective element fueling the search for information: Who you are and where you come from is part of selecting facts and figures."

Ms. Aburdene has matured along with the women's movement. A graduate of Newton College of the Sacred Heart (which has merged with Boston College) she pursued a master's degree in library science at Catholic University and worked as a free-lance writer during the 1970s. She was working for Forbes when she met her husband, John Naisbitt.

Their first collaboration, "Megatrends," was published in 1982. Published in more than 30 countries, it sold more than 8 million copies. "Reinventing the Corporation" and "Megatrends 2000" followed in 1985 and 1990.

What nugget in "Megatrends for Women" surprised her the most?

"The killer statistic on women-owned businesses," she said. "The fact that they employ more people than all the Fortune 500 companies put together."

The book cites a study by Cognetics Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., and the National Foundation of Women Business Owners that shows that Fortune 500 companies have lost at least 4 million jobs since 1980 while women-owned business have continuously generated new ones.

She also predicts the fashion industry will wise up to the notion that women have wised up to fashion. In fact, she expects fashion to start following women, instead of women following fashion.

Reminding readers that the average American woman wears a size 14 and that most of the country's 53 million working women will not sport this year's "grunge" look, Ms. Aburdene calls for a surge in the power of women designers.

"The male fashion designers design for wealthy socialites and ladies who lunch. And the women designers, led by Liz Claiborne, create for women who work," she says. "Liz Claiborne's company sells four times the dollar value of women's apparel than the top three male designers put together."

Recently named a public policy fellow at Radcliffe, Ms. Aburdene keeps an international lecturing schedule, on topics such as the future of the corporation and the leadership style of the new information economy as well as women's issues.

How long before some of her predictions become realities?

"It will take 10 more years of the baby boomers and the spread of their new values to really change things," she says.

She expects the presence of the First Couple to move things along.

"Hillary Clinton is the beginning of the end of the office of the First Lady," Ms. Aburdene predicts. "She plays a very key role of transitional figure and she's doing it with a very large amount of grace.

"The next male president will not necessarily have a wife like that, he might have a wife who is a cancer researcher. And it is not likely she would give up her position to be First Lady.

"And what about our first First Gentleman? Suppose he's a stockbroker on Wall Street. He will not come to Washington to attend to social duties -- and that will finally break the mold."

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