Chasing the Gender Effect

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My new essay on “Thinking Critically About Women’s Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries” can be downloaded from the link at the end of this post. I will be offering  the booklets at IFC tomorrow,

During the past ten years, I have been fortunate to be involved with many prominent efforts to create and evaluate support systems for female entrepreneurs in developing countries. My colleagues and I published the first independent evaluation of Avon‘s ability to help poor women build businesses (in South Africa).  The Avon system has become a template for many seeking to build networks of entrepreneurs among poor women in developing countries. Our team was the first on the ground to study the award-winning Jita system in Bangladesh, an Avon-like network built by CARE to serve rural poor women. For two years, I taught on the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women course in China.

Today, I serve on the International Council for Women’s Business Leadership, a high-level group (first founded at the US State Department and now at Georgetown University) that focuses on supporting women-owned businesses. I advise the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and evaluated their online mentoring program, which assists women in more than 30 countries. I am on the International Advisory Council to the Walmart Women’s Economic Empowerment effort, which has a strong focus on women-owned businesses, large and small.

Tomorrow, I intend to bring all this experience to a speech I will give at the International Finance Corporation in Washington, DC. My goals are several:

to highlight the blind spots I see in international efforts to design and evaluate such support systems

to argue for closer attention to reflecting gender constraints in measurement design

to illuminate the data collection and reporting difficulties faced by these large programs

to suggest how findings from such programs could change global perspectives on a number of issues important to women.

Jim took this photo of a woman in the Jita network back in early 2008.  CARE has had to make many adaptations to make this system work.  Fortunately, they are true gender experts and have very deep credibility on the ground in Bangladesh.  They have brought this effort to a point where it wins major awards.

Jim took this photo of a woman in the Jita network back in early 2008. CARE has had to make many adaptations to make this system work. Fortunately, they are true gender experts and have very deep credibility on the ground in Bangladesh. They have brought this effort to a point where it wins major awards.

My point of departure will be the insights we have gained in our efforts to design measurements for a global system that bridges developed and developing nations. Walmart’s Empowering Women Together (EWT) is intended to help early stage female entrepreneurs by giving them access to a large base of consumers—the Walmart shopper. The program is still small, in terms of the number of businesses it engages, but it is already working in thirteen countries on four continents. These small companies involve a wide range of industries and products (toys, women and children’s apparel, home furnishings, jewelry, food and beverage, and so on). Many of the companies involved are social enterprises and many are organized to benefit at-risk employee populations, such as refugees and recovering drug addicts. All these aspects make the system unique among efforts to date: never before has anyone tried to design measures that will work to assess impact and diagnose problems for women-owned businesses in any industry, any place, for any group of women.

We are currently up to our ears reviewing the academic and institutional literature that reports results of related studies and programs. We already knew when we started that the academic literature on women’s entrepreneurship is largely devoted to enterprise in the rich nations. Those studies do not evaluate activist projects such as the ones we are looking at and they mostly concern themselves with figuring out why women “underperform” as business owners compared to men–rather than assessing the positive effects of supporting women as entrepreneurs.  Furthermore, these scholars have tended to think of gender as a subjective self-perception, rather than a concrete set of economic constraints.

On the other hand, we were surprised to see that efforts to measure “women’s economic empowerment” had been conducted only in a handful of countries in the developing world—and that the measures of gender empowerment had never been tested against the obvious counterfactual: men.

Dr. Jiafei Jin and I wrote "Finance After Hours" based on research among women entrepreneurs and bankers in China.  We found that the bankers' negative attitudes toward lending to women was driven by informal attitudes about women's reproductive roles rather than formal criteria for credit.  The women avoided even applying for loans--not for lack of training or confidence, but out of a quite realistic expectation that they would be treated dismissively by the bank.

Dr. Jiafei Jin and I wrote “Finance After Hours” based on research among women entrepreneurs and bankers in China. We found that the bankers’ negative attitudes toward lending to women were driven by informal attitudes about women’s reproductive roles rather than formal criteria for credit. The women avoided even applying for loans–not for lack of training or confidence, but out of quite realistic expectations about what would happen if they did.

The findings of the women’s entrepreneurship literature did flag up the central issue, however. The “underperformance” of female entrepreneurs can be explained by a single dummy variable: gender. This one thing tells you we must quickly be about identifying, articulating, and measuring progress against the real-life constraints that gender norms put on the performance of businesses. Other studies that have tested to see what business variables can be adjusted until female entrepreneurship is brought statistically in line with male performance. The list is basically an itemization of gender-related conditions: the amount of time devoted to the business (a proxy for family obligation), the collateralization of loans (always and everywhere, women control fewer assets and therefore have nothing to pledge), and the “choice” of industries (women are in industries that pay less, grow slower—there is a chicken-and-egg aspect to that).

Because the entrepreneurship literature is mainly limited to variables that are considered “just business,” such as revenue growth or debt level, they don’t pick up some of the really troublesome gender-specific influences, such as sexual violence and access to contraception. We have been taught to think of birth control and rape as issues totally unrelated to business. In practice, you find out pretty quickly that few events burden a growing business like the appearance of an unwanted pregnancy or being beaten by a resentful husband or getting jumped in the streets as you walk home from a customer visit.

We learned from our fieldwork that the women’s empowerment questions often used in developing country work simply do not transfer to the developed world. For instance, it is quite reasonable to ask whether a woman can leave her home without her husband’s permission when assessing female freedom in the global “South.” But if you ask an entrepreneur in, say, San Francisco or London the same question, you imply that she is being abused.

This microbrewer in a mountainside village in Uganda gets the maize and water she needs to serve her beer from her husband's farm output.  Since he owns the land, he could claim all her proceeds, but he does not.  Sometimes entrepreneurial success depends on random factors like having a "good husband," as much as more predictable business inputs.

This microbrewer in a mountainside village in Uganda gets the maize and water she needs to serve her beer from her husband’s farm output. Since he owns the land, he could claim all her proceeds, but he does not. Sometimes entrepreneurial success depends on random factors like having a “good husband,” as much as more predictable business inputs.

We have unearthed many other problems in our fieldwork. Measures of employee well-being consistently assume that the workers are in a “Fordist” factory environment—an assumption that is really dated, in addition to being out of step with the occupations of most women around the world. Many women’s empowerment efforts use a measurable rise in confidence as an indicator that they have had a positive impact. And, actually, that is often the most logical choice since the business and cultural situations may vary too much to compare in other ways. In trying to test standard measures for confidence and self-efficacy, however, we ran into a very funny situation in which a population of felons scored well above the mean. What do you do with that?

One business we studied converted itself from a piecework, home-based operation to an efficient factory in order to comply with international standards. But after that, the owner had a consistent problem with employee turnover, even though wages were higher, because the workers did not like the commute and the fixed hours. Go figure, right?

Do you like commuting? How many women do you know who struggle to balance family demands with inflexible hours? We have met lots of American women who purposely take lower-paying jobs in exchange for family-friendly conditions. Why be surprised by the reaction when it occurs among the global poor?

I will tell these stories and others tomorrow in order to make the conceptual issues come to life for the audience (and because some of the stories are funny—that will help keep them awake).

But the stories I will tell are not anomalies. They all merely show the very large gap between Western “gender neutral” business expectations and the facts of life on the ground for women entrepreneurs everywhere.

Why should anybody care about this stuff? Well, the main reason is the positive social impact that is expected to come from economically empowering women—which often must be done through entrepreneurship because formal employment opportunities are few in some countries. The international community has reason to believe that money in the hands of autonomous women goes to benefit children and communities in ways that ripple across a population with very positive effects, such as better education for the next generation, lower violence levels, and less disease. Here, however, is where the data collection and measurement get really tricky.

Think for a moment how hard it would be to assess the quality of education and nutrition, or the incidence of domestic violence, among the relatives of the people you work with. Yeah. Wow.

Unsettling as it may seem to rich nation readers, it is important to bear in mind that most of the world's population lives in the developing world, with the majority in rural areas.

Unsettling as it may seem to rich nation readers, it is important to bear in mind that most of the world’s population lives in the developing world, with the majority in rural areas.

Then take that imagined scenario and plunk it down in the rural areas of East Africa. You would probably have to drive more than five hours to get to each settlement where you want to interview. Across a single country, there may be 10-20 languages spoken, so you would have to have that many translations of the survey and a veritable army of interpreters. Plus there would usually be no reliable connection for your tablet or laptop so you could upload their answers. Forget thinking your respondents will just jump online while you sip a latte in Bethesda or Oxford. The people you want to reach will likely have no experience with computers and zero connectivity.

The costs, in both time and money, for collecting that level of data in the remote rural areas of the developing world are staggering. Yet this is where we are looking to have an impact.

If we could somehow pool resources and standardize questions and figure out how to deliver such research across all these large programs, we would learn so much about how to lift women out of subjugation and poverty that it would change our whole perspective. We would know what to do. We would understand. It would be worth it.

The world is up to its eyeballs in economic data collection systems implicitly based on a notion that gender doesn’t matter. Yet we know that gender is a major driver of inequality all over the world. We should not turn away and say it is impossible. We must take the steps necessary to learn, know, and act.

Information about tomorrow’s talk, which is open to the public, is available here.  You can also attend the meeting online.

 “Thinking Critically About Women’s Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries,” which I will offer to the audience at the International Finance Corporation talk tomorrow, can be downloaded here.

“Finance After Hours:  A Case Study in Women’s Access to Capital” can be downloaded here.

 

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What Kind of Leaders Do Women Need?

This is what real leadership for women looks like.  Right in the middle, in the green coat, is Hillary Clinton, and to her left is Cherie Blair.  If you look up from the space between them, you can see me, too!  I was so honored to be at this historic gathering.

This is what real leadership for women looks like. Right in the middle, in the green coat, is Hillary Clinton, and to her left is Cherie Blair. If you look up from the space between them, you can see me, too! I was so honored to be at this historic gathering.

As I explained in my last post, large global datasets now demonstrate conclusively that women are a seriously disadvantaged group in every country on the planet. These data also tell us that eliminating gender inequality would bring extraordinary benefits to women, men, and children all over the world by increasing prosperity, reducing scourges like disease and conflict, and improving governance.

Many large institutions are now actively engaged in support of this effort, but some folks still simply don’t know the truth and are not behind the mission.  What we now need, it seems to me, is some honest and courageous leadership to bring the situation to more people’s awareness and recruit their support.

There is a lot of rah-rah out there these days about “women’s leadership.”  Indeed, within the past week, I have attended two important events focused on this topic. One was the Women of the Future Summit in London (October 28) and the other was the inaugural meeting of the International Council of Women’s Business Leadership at Georgetown University in Washington, DC (October 30). Hearing and watching so many women modelling leadership caused me to think critically about what we mean by this already over-used term, “women’s leadership.”

This single term conflates three very different phenomena.  The first is women in positions of leadership traditionally held by men.  A second meaning of “women’s leadership” might refer to someone (female or male) who leads women.  And the third–also either male or female–could be someone who leads on behalf of women, who is a leader for women.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking on behalf of women worldwide at Georgetown University last week.  Gaston Hall was packed and enthusiastic--I felt like I had stepped into a rock concert.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking on behalf of women worldwide at Georgetown University last week. Gaston Hall was packed and enthusiastic–I felt like I had stepped into a rock concert.

It is true that, occasionally, a single person manifests all three senses of the term “woman leader”:  Hillary Clinton, who met with the International Council on Women’s Business Leadership, is a woman who has held positions of leadership traditionally occupied by men. Through her roles as Senator of New York and Secretary of State, she led both women and men. But she also unapologetically leads for and on behalf of women, as her role in convening the ICWBL and her speech at Georgetown following our meeting clearly demonstrated.

Clinton’s courage in speaking out on behalf of women–using the undaunted tone of someone who knows her stuff and intends to actually lead–was striking to me, in part because of the comparison to the dismal performance of a high-ranking government official who spoke at the Women of the Future Summit in London a few days earlier. Theresa May, the UK Home Secretary, took unusual care to argue that British business should be allowed to proceed in their own good time to appoint women to corporate boards–without heroic intrusions from legislators. May used gains by the FTSE 250 and 500 over the past two years as her evidence (please note that these are gains that all occurred at the end of a pointed stick held by European Union Justice Minister Viviane Redding, who was threatening quotas).

The Women of the Future Summit was simply fabulous.  Look at the sponsor list!  These are the kinds of institutions that are behind the global push to empower women.  As I said in this speech, women have never before in history had this kind of support.  We owe it to our grandmothers and our granddaughters to run with this opportunity.

The Women of the Future Summit was simply fabulous. Look at the sponsor list! These are the kinds of institutions now behind the global push to empower women. As I said in this speech, women have never before in history had this kind of support. We owe it to our grandmothers and our granddaughters to run with this opportunity.

In truth, the natural pace of British business on this issue makes a tortoise look like a racehorse. May and others in this “let them do it on their own” camp have a good reason to focus on the performance of the top FTSE companies: these corporations are at least making some progress, probably because they are big enough to care about how they look to the public. The overall picture, however, shows that British business is a global laggard.

In the World Economic Forum Gender Report for 2014, also released last week, there are numbers reporting the percentage of women on corporate boards for many countries.  When British business is taken as a whole, the UK has only 7% of board seats occupied by women.  For perspective, twenty other countries (that is, most of those reporting) have a better record, including Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Indonesia, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United States. From that vantage, British business looks like a pretty exclusive old boys’ club.  Importantly, many of the countries with the bigger numbers got there by enacting some kind of legislative mandate–precisely what May is trying to discourage.  Perhaps we don’t want to demand advocacy of dramatic interventions–such as quotas–from “women’s leadership,” but I do think we need to demand honest representation of the facts.

Indeed, I’m afraid it is sometimes all too clear that women in positions of leadership traditionally held by men (Sense 1 of the term) do not intend to lead on behalf of women (Sense 3).  I have known many women who occupied privileged posts, but who would shudder in horror that anyone would even notice they were female.  Such women would never consider stepping up to the plate on behalf of the other women in the same organization–or, heaven forbid, addressing themselves to the needs of women generally. Women like this are fond of saying, “I never think of myself as a woman, I am just doing my job,” or some other simultaneously self-negating and arrogant nonsense. (Translation:  “I don’t want to be seen as a member of such a despised group.  And, anyway, I am so smart and so cool that I never have to think about systemic disadvantage.  I am just that good.”)

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At the Women of the Future Summit in London, Maria Jose´Araneda (left), who works for Minera Escondida in Chile, told me about the issues faced by pregnant women who work in the mines.  Kaitlin Wolfe, from Chicago, was sent by Walmart–she works in their women’s empowerment initiative.  These are the sort of leaders the next generation needs:  women who will stand up on behalf of other women.

Ironically, that kind of cowardice is exactly the reason we must interpret numbers on women’s political leadership, such as reported by the 2014 Global Gender Gap report, very carefully. The international community seems to believe that simply having more women in the top roles will improve the lot of all women in a given nation.  Unfortunately, the data do not suggest this expectation holds true, at least in the short run.

For instance a meta-analysis conducted by Esther Duflo showed that the first generation of female leaders among communities in developing countries–sometimes put there by local government mandate–did not really have much effect on the lot of women.  I would argue this failure occurs mostly because the women who make it first into traditional leadership positions are too often entrenched in the existing power structure through family, party, religion, or ideology. Their loyalties make them poor advocates for change.  Duflo, however, does note that there is a positive effect on the next generation when they see the first generation in traditionally male leadership roles.  Thus, perhaps what we must hope for is that increasing the number of women in parliaments, ministries, and councils will have visible positive impact on gender equality in the long run.

In the new Global Gender Gap report, the United Kingdom dropped out of the top 20 for the first time in a decade.  The United States is hanging in by its fingernails at number 20. Yet Rwanda, a poor African country, made its debut on the list this year in the 7th slot and South Africa–a country that vies with India as “the rape capital of the world“–is once again in the top 20 (at 18).  Nicaragua also rose dramatically this year–now ranking 6th.  The WEF does not take gender-based violence and other tricky issues for women, such as access to contraception, into account; they only compute the gender index with measures that allow direct comparison to men.

Rwanda, South Africa, and Nicaragua each owe their high place in the rankings to better inclusion of women in the political sphere as compared to most nations.  Because the WEF’s political participation score is weighted equally to the scores for economics, education, and health–and because most countries score very low on political participation, but have nearly closed the gap in education and health–better political engagement of women can send a nation skyrocketing up the list, without any improvement in conditions for women on the ground.

Yemen, which consistently ranks last in the Global Gender Gap rankings, has almost no political leaders who are women. The parliament of Iceland,  the top country in the gender sweepstakes, is about two-thirds women.  Parliamentary representation by women in both the US and the UK is abysmal (and embarrassing), but in sub-Saharan Africa, aggressive attempts to force equal representation, including quotes in some nations, has recently created a dramatic increase in the parliamentary representation, which in turn affects the overall Political Engagement Score given by the World Economic Forum.

Yemen, which consistently ranks last in the Global Gender Gap list, has almost no political leaders who are women. The parliament of Iceland, the top country in the gender sweepstakes, has about two-thirds the number of women compared to men. Parliamentary representation by women in both the US and the UK is abysmal (and embarrassing), but in sub-Saharan Africa, aggressive attempts to force equal representation has affected the overall Political Engagement Score given by the World Economic Forum.

A closer look at context is also often instructive. For instance, Rwanda has enacted quotas to ensure solid representation (at least 30%) of women in their parliament.  Indeed, Rwanda recently became the only country in the world where women outnumber men in the national representative body.  Not only are 64% of the parliamentary leaders female, but half the Supreme Court justices are women as well.

It is important to be mindful of the conditions that led to Rwanda’s push for gender equality.  The late 20th century genocide left that country with a population that is 70% female.  Women who were left had to take leadership–who else was going to do it? But these women also took steps on behalf of other women (Sense 3),  enacting quotas so that future generations of women would retain these gains. Thus, the “women’s leadership” in Rwanda is acting in full “women’s leadership” capacity:  as females in leadership, as leaders of females, as well as leaders working on behalf of females.

The UK's political engagement score has declined since 2006.  Coupled with the rise in political participation among some developing nations, the decline has caused the UK's ranking on this dimension to fall.  Because the political score gets equal weight to those on economics, health, and education, the overall score for the UK fell, also.

The UK’s political engagement score has declined since 2006. Coupled with the rise in political participation among some developing nations, the decline has caused the UK’s ranking on this dimension to fall.

In comparison, you can see that the UK’s political engagement score has indeed declined and this, along with the rise of some developing countries, has caused the UK’s rank on this measure to drop. Women in the UK have also lost ground in other areas, for instance in estimated earnings, which dropped to 62% of male earnings in 2014 from 73% in 2013.  Clearly, women in the UK are in need of leadership on their behalf and not just women in leadership posts.

The US meeting of the International Council of Women’s Business Leadership provided other points of contrast besides Hillary Clinton’s very straightforward and informed voice. This council was originally formed as a State Department Subcommittee. Melanne Verveer, former US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, has now taken the lead on moving the group to Georgetown University to act as part of the Institute for Women, Peace and Security.

Three young leaders of the future at the London reception.  On the left, Pavithra Y S has a social enterprise in India that employs only the disabled. Catherine Constaninides is an environmental, climate, and food security activist in South Africa.  Caroline Williams, on the right, started an executive education program at Oxford called "Women Transforming Leadership"--a program that points in the right direction!

Three young leaders of the future at the London reception. On the left, Pavithra Y S has a social enterprise in India that employs only the disabled. Catherine Constaninides is an environmental, climate, and food security activist in South Africa. Caroline Williams, on the right, started an executive education program at Oxford called “Women Transforming Leadership”–a program that points in the right direction!

Ambassador Verveer is tireless in her efforts to gather supporters and resources on behalf of women worldwide.  She not only speaks and writes on the topic, but she offers advice to institutions wishing to work in the area and often mentors those of us who are trying to make a difference as individuals.  She is, in the very best way, a leader of women (Sense 2) and a leader on behalf of women (Sense 3).

Cherie Blair, who was also prominent at this meeting, founded the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women after she and Tony left office.  I work often with the CBFW and am amazed at all they have accomplished in such a short time.  Their programs, quietly supported by a number of major global institutions, are aimed at helping women entrepreneurs all over the world.  These programs are well designed and monitored, with an eye specifically to what helps the women.  This is leadership on behalf of women, guiding the effort from a global vantage.

After a panel that followed Hillary Clinton’s speech, students from Georgetown lined up behind a microphone to ask questions.  One told the panel they occupied positions that today’s generation could never aspire to and asked what macro-level efforts could be made toward change.  I think we were all shocked by the question.  The whole point of this effort (and this was the panel answer) is to make sure that the next generation of women has an opportunity to lead  Everyone involved is making the assumption is that the next generation will make it to these high-powered positions and be represented in greater proportions than ever before.  It might be added that the macro-level effort being marshalled behind women’s empowerment is bigger than anything the world has ever seen on behalf of women.  Ever.

The ICWBL membership list reads like a “Who’s Who” of women in corporate leadership in America.  I am sure, however, that there are many female corporate leaders (Sense 1), who would be afraid to step up and join any group that intended to work on behalf of women (Sense 3), no matter how respected the members might be. So, I was super impressed that so many highly-ranked corporate women stood up for their less advantaged sisters and took a place on the ICWBL.  Besides those who were American corporate leaders, a number of women from other countries, some of them from the private sector and others from government and NGOs, were also there to share thoughts and plan for future action. Among these actors, there are many programs now running–and many more are possible–that help women across all domains in economics, health, and education.  The spirit is non-partisan: indeed, the scope of this vision is much larger than any party politics in any country.

In sum, this gathering of high-level women in Washington was making a statement–one of historic import–that we need to hear more often.  These women, already in positions of leadership traditionally occupied by men, were hopeful and outspoken in their commitment to leading other females (as well as males) to take action on behalf of the women of the world. These are the kind of leaders women need.

 

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The Numbers on Women: The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, 2014

Today I am speaking at the Women of the Future Summit in London, an event sponsored by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Said Business School, and a number of corporations, including Cisco and KPMG. High profile events featuring some aspect of women’s leadership or economic participation, have become commonplace in recent years.    Women at all levels, but especially those in positions where they can affect institutional decision-making, need to be aware of the reasons for all this flurry of interest from governments, corporations, and multilateral organisations.

As an erstwhile historian of the women’s movement, I can tell you emphatically that no previous generation has garnered positive attention of this magnitude.  Indeed, past leaders have begged for the notice of governments and staged heart-breaking stunts (hunger strikes and the like) to pull public notice to their cause.

So how did this generation’s women come to be the cause of the hour? To resolve this paradox, you must know about the new information on the status of women.  It has been only in the past twenty years that international institutions have disaggregated data by gender and begun to build datasets on women’s circumstances.  Our generation is now able, for the first time in history, to compare measures of gender inequality across nations, to correlate those measures with other metrics on national well-being, and to judge the impact of interventions on behalf of women.

What has been learned through this process of data collection and analysis is now changing everything.  These data show quite conclusively that women all over the world are systematically disadvantaged, not only economically, but in their access to basic services like education, health care, and political participation.

We can now have hard evidence that is not an illusion, a myth, or a stereotype that women are a subordinated group.  Women are massively disadvantaged, in eerily consistent ways, all across the world, in developed and developing countries alike.  However, when interventions to even out these inequalities are successful, an astonishing cascade of positive benefits to whole nations occur.  Not only does national prosperity and competitiveness increase when countries educate their girls and employ their women, but other negative forces that drain resources begin to subside.  Violence is reduced.  Excessive fertility declines.  The disease burden is lightened.  Many believe that various forms of environmental degradation can be reversed by empowering women.  Perhaps most importantly, the positive effect on the well-being of the next generation is dramatic.

In sum, there is a ripple effect that comes from resolving gender inequality that is massively positive for both women and men, that is passed on through generations, and that is measurably beneficial for nations.  And that is why there are suddenly so many events, reports, and programs that try to encourage and cultivate women.

There are several sources who make these data available to ordinary citizens and several institutions have begun packaging the information around various topics.  However, my own opinion is that the best overview–and the most user-friendly–is the Global Gender Gap Report that is published annually by the World Economic Forum.  The 2014 report is being released today.

The World Economic Forum selects key indicators, many drawn from other sources, that allow us to compare items like girls’ educational attainment and female labor force participation within and between countries–and to do so with ease and in confidence that the measures are, indeed, comparable.  The WEF also adds a few measures from their own data collection activities, one of which is their “subjective” equal pay measure–a number that is, for my money, the best indicator of equal pay among many available metrics.

Another aspect of the current moment that is unlike any previous juncture in the history of the women’s movement is the ability for women in all nations to communicate with and help each other.  Now, having the data we need to understand how deeply similar our circumstances are, we also have the means at our disposal to raise awareness, demand accountability, and help each other.  For individual women who have not engaged with the issue before now, becoming familiar with the information provided by reports like the Global Gender Gap Report is an important first step.

 

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The Frozen Egg Perquisite: A Better Answer

The tech sector, now promoting fertility decline, has offered to help women delay childbearing indefinitely, rather than reform their own workplaces.

The tech sector, now promoting fertility decline, has offered to help women delay childbearing indefinitely, rather than reform their own workplaces.

I got on the train to London Paddington at 6:55 AM on Wednesday, bound for an all-day meeting at the Department for International Development.  As I settled into my seat, someone handed me a newspaper.  From the front page I learned of the newest gender fiasco in the workplace:  Facebook and Apple are now offering to pay for freezing the ova of their female employees.

Astonishing as this news was, the journalistic take on it was even more strange:  the story was all about how excessive the perquisites are in Silicon Valley, thus casually dropping this conversation-stopping innovation into a benefits bin with on-site gyms and Starbucks at your desk.  The author apparently had not taken even a moment to meditate on how deeply weird it is for two huge corporations to be engaging in cryogenic interventions into their employees’ reproductive plans.This is not to mention that, given the frightening decline in birth rates, the tech sector was now offering to take the human species one giant step closer to reproductive perdition.

As one might expect, there has been an uproar in response, with varying stands (mostly indignant) taken by media outlets from Jezebel to the Guardian.

Last night, over a lovely Thai dinner with Stephanie, my brilliant economist/historian friend, the subject came up again. “I mean, you can just see it,” laughed Stephanie, “A bunch of engineering guys sitting around a table, trying to figure out how to keep women in their organisation through their middle career years.  They are going to come up with a scientific solution:  ‘Hey, guys, I know, let’s freeze their eggs!” We hooted at the image and then soberly turned back to the sweet chilli prawns.  The problem, we agreed, is that the workplace needs “fixing,” not the women.

This morning, I have come up with an alternative solution:  frozen testicles.

Reducing the concentration of testosterone in the atmosphere might help attract and retain women by making it possible for them to breathe freely.

Reducing the concentration of testosterone in the atmosphere might help attract and retain women by making it possible for them to breathe freely while at work.

Now, don’t freak out.  We would not surgically remove the appendages for cryogenic preservation, but could just freeze them in place, like you do a wart or a mole, in the hope of reducing the rate at which free radical testosterone is emitted into the atmosphere of the workplace.  We might anticipate a reduction in sexual harassment, as well fewer turf wars and a lower incidence of generalized dominance assertion.  Of course, regular applications would be required because of the proximal body warmth.  I suggest the freezing procedure be done daily, at about 5.30 PM, to all male employees at once, for the sake of efficiency. Timing the application just before the close of business would minimise the effect of discomfort on productivity during the day.  An unexpected behavioral benefit might be an uptick in men leaving the office early to take kids to soccer or pick up babies from daycare. Staying late at work might become uncool: the office could once again be merely the place one earns a pay check and all employees might at last have a life–and even (gulp) go home.

I am, of course, kidding about my idea.  But Facebook and Apple are not.

I have several young friends (and some not so young) who have benefitted from the science of fertility interventions, though the process can be very difficult financially and emotionally.  But using in vitro fertilisation as a career-planning device and a human resources strategy?  I don’t know.  Frozen eggs often don’t make it.  Waiting til late in life to get pregnant reduces the chances of having any children–and brings down the overall fertility rate.

A scientific innovation must be a good thing for everyone, right?

A scientific innovation must be a good thing for everyone, right?

I don’t believe we should think about women primarily as baby machines feeding global demography; however, I also don’t think that the workplace should dominate our lives to such a degree that human reproduction is negatively affected on a macro-scale.  And that is what is happening.  We treat the desire to have a family as if it were some kind of shameful secret–and something only women want.  We are already paying the price for that self-destructive prejudice in the form of ageing populations.

Children are a social good, as well as a private joy, and their care should be a priority for all of us, not something we are working collectively to delay, mute, or snuff out. Employers need to be held accountable for fostering expectations that fight so viciously with the rights of their employees to live their lives, raise their families, and realize their aspirations.

 

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Disrupting the financial system and empowering women

When I was growing up, my mother’s constant refrain to her daughters was ‘Make sure you are always financially independent’. This was borne out of the experience of generations of women who stayed at home and raised a family in a very traditional family environment and the men were the ones that went to work and earned the money.

Guest blog by Julia Flynn,  a program administration officer at  Saïd Business School.  Previously Julia was at international development  NGO Oxfam for over 20 years.

Guest blog by Julia Flynn, a program administration officer at Saïd Business School. Previously Julia was at international development NGO Oxfam for over 20 years.

I took heed of my mother’s words, and they have influenced my career and lifestyle choices ever since. Of course this was at a time when education opportunities were abundant and cultural change was afoot in the Swinging Sixties and the Seventies Me Decade and the world was at my feet, or so it seemed. I was also reading Gloria Steinem and Germaine Greer and other feminist writers, which reinforced and extended the messages I had taken on board from my mother. By the 1960s, access to a bank was easy, women in Australia having the right to a bank account since the late 19th century but still it was not too easy to get a bank loan for a mortgage or anything else for that matter. Women at that time were routinely asked to have their husband or a male guarantor sign for a loan, even when they were the sole earner. The assumption was that a woman did not need a loan in her own right, and she would not have the funds to service the debt.

Now in Australia, younger women have the opportunity to manage their money in a totally different way, with separate accounts and probably more than one account, according to their ambitions and expectations. There is a sense of personal freedom and financial independence, that women of my mother’s generation could not have imagined at the same age.

For the women in the film Disruption, there is a more fundamental issue about financial inclusion and poverty alleviation and making sure your family has enough to eat and your kids are in school, but you can still hear my mother’s mantra being echoed in another part of the world. Take Maze Saraiva, who lives in Northeast Brazil, explaining how the Bolsa Familia program, a social welfare program of the Brazilian government, helps her to not only feed her family but increase her own autonomy as a woman.

Maze Saraiva lives in Northeast Brazil

Maze Saraiva lives in Northeast Brazil

‘Bolsa Familia makes us feel independent. Although we need men’s help, if a relationship doesn’t work, we can leave and count on Bolsa Familia. We feel more independent, more secure’ – Maze Saraiva

The film Disruption highlights the work of Skoll Award winner Fundación Capital and the quest for women’s economic empowerment. At the heart of the film are the stories of women who participate in Fundación Capital’s programs, encountering in themselves formerly untapped political and economic energy which propels many into active roles of civic participation. The film spotlights women from Peru, Colombia, and Brazil who become agents of change in their communities.

By a lake in the Peruvian Andes, we meet Cirila Quillahuaman who tells us that the women in her Peruvian Quechua village, once “sleeping beauties,” are now learning to use accounts to build savings and start small businesses, changing the power dynamics within their families and communities. Cirila has been elected as city councilwoman and plans to run for mayor. She’s pressing her local government to expand the pilot program.

Cirila Quillahuaman, from Pongobama Peru

Cirila Quillahuaman, from Pongobama Peru

‘We have nothing to fear. We shouldn’t be stuck in the house. We should be engaged in our community, and our district, and even in national affairs. – Cirila Quillahuaman

Against the odds, Maze and Cirila and the other women shown in Disruption, become empowered economic and political agents in their communities through the bottom-up innovations, designed by both economists and women living in poverty.

María Briyith Fuquen & Johanna Fuquen, Cómbita, Colombia. Joahnna teaches her mother how to read and  save using the Lista App, a financial eductions tool,  on the tablet.

María Briyith Fuquen & Johanna Fuquen, Cómbita, Colombia. Joahnna teaches her mother how to read and save using the Lista App, a financial eductions tool, on the tablet.

These innovative approaches to expanding financial inclusion, are now poised to spread to 40 countries. If the model is taken to scale, could 20 million women upend a continent? How can women’s economic agency transform the cycle of inequality and marginalization?

Disruption, by independent film makers Pamela Yates (Director), Paco de Onís (Producer), Peter Kinoy (Editor), for Skylight Pictures, sets the stage for this potential paradigm shift. My mother, still going strong in her 90s, would be cheering these women on, both in looking after their families and lifting them out of poverty, and what comes with it in terms of their autonomy and independence.

disruption logo

Disruption will be shown at Saïd Business School on 20 October. Registration is essential.

 

 

 

Reference: Women, Money and the Bank, By Supriya Singh* and Anuja Cabraal, RMIT University/ Smart Internet Technology Cooperative Research Centre. Paper presented to the Financial Literacy, Banking and Identity Conference, RMIT University, Melbourne, 25-26 October 2006, http://mams.rmit.edu.au/8t26opwcyo6gz.pdf

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Not All Women’s Conferences Are the Same

Brian Brady, one of the organizers of the UConn conference, holds an on-topic ice cream cake at the celebratory dinner following the event.

Brian Brady, one of the organizers of the UConn conference, holds an on-topic ice cream cake at the celebratory dinner following the event.

The New York Times recently remarked on the rising popularity of American conferences about women’s empowerment. However, the article short-sightedly attributed this trend to media companies looking for a gimmick to shore up flagging revenues—the writer only seemed to know about events hosted by Forbes, Time, Cosmo, and an assortment of media personalities like Arianna Huffington.  Not much time had been spent researching the piece, so the conclusions were superficial.  And the perspective was painfully out of date:  the author noted with surprise that young women are interested in these events. I guess this person had not spoken to anyone under 30 about women’s issues in about ten years. One expects more from the New York Times.

The newspaper did at least accurately note that the electricity in the air at such gatherings suggests a new groundswell in the women’s movement. In truth, the “women’s empowerment conference” is an international phenomenon.  The events are more often led by universities, foundations, NGOs, and governments than by media companies. There is a great deal of variation in themes, participants, and purposes. For instance, our own Power Shift: The Oxford Forum for Women in the World Economy is focused on policy and partnerships among institutions and individuals working to empower women—rich and poor– worldwide, while Womensphere is more of a networking and inspirational gathering for prosperous female entrepreneurs, mostly in America.

This week, in London, representatives from southern governments and international NGOs will gather under the wings of Oxfam and the Department for International Development to talk about multisectoral approaches to women’s empowerment in agriculture. An important upcoming event is the October 28  Women of the Future summit, hosted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, at which representatives from over 25 countries, including delegates from Chile, South Africa, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, India, China, USA, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia and Japan, will discuss emergent trends in women’s leadership. (I will be speaking on the Double X Economy!) In November, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual Trust Women conference focuses on legal rights for women. This event, too, is global in perspective and draws speakers and participants from all over the world.

Jenny Lawton, CEO of Makerbot, and I teamed up for the lunchtime keynote, a discussion moderated by Pat Carroll of WCBS News Radio.

Jenny Lawton, CEO of Makerbot, and I teamed up for the lunchtime keynote, a discussion moderated by Pat Carroll of WCBS News Radio.

A few weeks back, I had the privilege of keynoting at the University of Connecticut’s “Connecticut Celebrates Women Entrepreneurs,” held in Stamford. This was a more locally-focused gathering, aimed at disseminating information about the support systems available for women entrepreneurs through the State of Connecticut, including the state university system. However, it also provided opportunities for women to purchase goods and services from each other. There were women of all ages, as well as from business, government, and NGOs, in attendance. As is often the case, the conference provided a platform for discussing problems businesswomen share, particularly gender-based barriers to success. All these activities do tend to produce a shared sense of purpose and an emergent solidarity among those in attendance.

girlgroupatuconn

From left: Iva Kaufman, Donnetta Campbell, me, Anne Ravanona, Valarie Gelb, and Jeanne Sullivan.

The UConn event was led by two friends and close colleagues of mine, Valarie Gelb and Brian Brady. Both of them are very active in promoting and supporting women’s entrepreneurship, all year round. There are a few people who speak often at these conferences; however,  for the most part, there is not much overlap in either speakers or audiences because of the variation in themes the conferences address and the localities in which they are held. In fact, I was surprised and thrilled to see several people from Power Shift at the UConn event.  And I also saw some old friends from Criterion Institute’s Convergence, which focuses on gender lens investing. Jeanne Sullivan, the high-powered venture capital crusader, was there along with Donnetta Campbell, the social media maven who has been building an amazingly powerful online community around the topic of women’s empowerment. It was a special treat to see Anne Ravanona, who flew in from Paris. GlobalInvestHer, an online resource for female entrepreneurs, is Anne’s brainchild. Iva Kaufman, who does such great work for the American Sustainable Business Council, is always full of new ideas.

speaker

Claire Leonardi speaking at Connecticut Celebrates Women Entrepreneurs, while Valarie Gelb and Brian Brady listen.

Any gathering of women entrepreneurs will eventually turn to the question of capital–a topic that tends to foreground the uneven economic playing field for females, in much the same way that pay inequality does. One of the opening speakers at UConn, Claire Leonardi, CEO of Connecticut Innovations, called attention to a new US Senate study, showing that women own nearly a third of American small businesses, but get less than 5% of conventional business loans.  This fact reminded me of a discussion we had the previous week at the Women-Owned Business Advisory Council (WOBAC) meeting for Walmart.  We recognized that women’s difficulty getting loans is not all about their lack of credit-readiness, but is largely a function of old-fashioned prejudices among bankers–who don’t seem to know how to find female clients despite the many conferences devoted to women’s entrepreneurship!

I bought this beautiful necklace (and the earrings and ring to match) from Serai, a women-owned business at the conference.  I will wear all three to the DfID/Oxfam gig on Wednesday!

I bought this beautiful necklace (and the earrings and ring to match) from Serai, a women-owned business at the conference. I will wear all three to the DfID/Oxfam gig on Wednesday!

A key recommendation coming out of that Senate study was to develop online crowd funding so that women would be able to circumvent the conventional system.  So, I made a point of attending a terrific session on crowd funding at the UConn event.  The session was led by Jane Applegate, director of strategic partnerships at Plum Alley, an organization dedicated to helping women raise capital, especially through crowd funding.  I learned a lot in this session. Already, the crowd funding scene is segmented into projects funded by large numbers of ordinary people, such as you find on KickStarter, and specialized qualified investor projects, supported by groups like Angel Fund. Two entrepreneurs on the panel told their success stories, each of them having used a different approach.  It seemed to me that a huge and important pathway for women was opening up with this crowd funding alternative.  And, it did seem to me that if the conventional banks don’t get over their prejudices, a major disintermediation is likely to emerge.  Some days I wonder if banks will go the way of bookstores and video rental shops.

The globalisation of the women’s economy was visible in the little stalls where entrepreneurs were selling their goods–all kinds of things designed in one place, produced in another, now sold at a university in Connecticut.  I bought some gorgeous jewelry from a pair of Turkish sisters.  They design their pieces in a Turkish aesthetic, then one sister produces the jewelry in Istanbul and the other sells it in America (and online).

Jeanne Sullivan, Anne Ravanona, Iva Kaufman, and Valarie Gelb cook up world change while preparing dinner.

Jeanne Sullivan, Anne Ravanona, Iva Kaufman, and Valarie Gelb cook up world change while preparing dinner.

Much of what is important at women’s conferences–as at any kind of conference–goes on behind the scenes and after hours.  A group of people from Power Shift, Convergence, and UConn had dinner together that evening at Donnetta Campbell’s place (several who were there had pub-hopped together in Oxford last May).  As we collectively prepared dinner at  the huge island in the kitchen, Donnetta’s teenage daughter Lucy and her friends were making soap to sell for an initiative supporting girls’ self-esteem.  Later, we sat around the table talking over everything we had learned during the day, but we also brainstormed about what the theme for next year’s Power Shift should be, as well as making plans to meet again and promises to introduce each other to key people with shared interests.  In this fashion, the conferences and the people behind them do knit together and the overall landscape does begin to look like a movement.

Who says the young don't care about women's issues?  Donnetta's daughter Lucy (center) and her friends were making soaps for their girls' self-esteem campaign right in the same kitchen with all of us.

Who says the young don’t care about women’s issues? Donnetta’s daughter Lucy (center) and her friends were making soaps for their girls’ self-esteem campaign right in the same kitchen with all of us.

So, here is the word for the New York Times. Yes, there is a big surge of interest in women’s conferences, but they are not primarily a means of ratcheting up media revenue.  Yes, there is something of a movement emerging that has more scope and energy than we have seen since the 1970s.  No, all the conferences are not alike–any more than the hundreds of conferences attended by men are all alike.  There is indeed a notable level of interest among young women; however, this is not a reversal of consciousness.  It has been at least a decade since young women rejected the women’s movement–this is a new generation and they are more dedicated to the cause than anyone has seen in 50 years. However, the new movement is a cross-generational effort, as well as an international, multisectoral one.  It would be great if media voices like the New York Times would catch up with the reality of what is happening.  The world is going to change and somebody should be reporting the process a bit more thoughtfully.

 

 

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What Do Thinking Women Want?

lipstickmotorcyclesm

What women really need is a motorcycle with a mirror better angled to check your lipstick. Then, the engineers can tackle what riding one does to your hair.

Whenever the marketing world pitches up another product for women–a motorcycle for women, a lawnmower for women, a pool table for women–I brace myself for an insult, as I am sure all of you do, too.  But I am intrigued by the subgenre of products designed for “for the thinking woman.”

Consider the recent announcement of a thinking woman’s line of underwear. (Yes, underwear.)  Three sharp young women came up with the idea that your panties should have a shield to repel the odd menstrual accident. These ladies also say “confidence” doesn’t have to be ugly.  So, they have designed pretty, sexy underwear from fabric that wicks away disaster. And because this is supposed to be “thinking woman’s underwear,” the brandname is Thinx.  The video is smart and, pardon the pun, cheeky.

So, what is the cognitive element?  These young ladies put thought into a good design–one that you have to ask, “Why did no one think of this before?”  And I guess they are trying to save you from that sudden chilling thought, “Oh my god, I’ve sprung a leak.” I concluded that the thinking woman was supposed to appreciate both the utilitarian and the aesthetic functionality. The left and right sides of your brain should be happy with these panties.

"Rational" advertising usually has diagrams and cross-sections like these.  However, such scientific claims can also be pretty weird and misleading.  Guys in white lab coats, "secret ingredients," and the like.

“Rational” advertising often has diagrams and cross-sections. However, scientific claims can be pretty weird and misleading. Guys in white lab coats, “secret ingredients,” and the like.

The fabled “economic man” (may he rest in peace) is supposed to make a rational decision based on a comparative analysis of the costs and benefits. Aesthetics are not usually thought to be part of a rational economic decision; the right side of your brain is to be suppressed when buying.  Instead, we are to use the left side to consider functionality and concrete stuff like ingredients.

A perfect example is the new Nurofen.  One of my wonderful new doctoral students, Astrid, came into my office and smacked a box down on the desk: Nurofen for women (menstrual pain, obviously).  She tells me in a suitably indignant tone that this box is double the price of the “regular” Nurofen and it has the same ingredients. But the pills are pink.  It seems to be another of those blatantly sexist appeals of the “for women” variety. Obviously, no thinking woman would buy that product.

Would they?  I’m imagining myself in deep periodic distress, walking into Boots and dragging up to the painkiller pegboard.  I see this Nurofen box hanging there, claiming to do the very job I need.  I can tell by looking across the pegs that it costs more.  Do I then turn over all the packages and compare ingredients?  No, because my cognitive state is too snarly and, anyway, I don’t know enough chemistry to discern what the words mean. So, I rest, perhaps uneasily, on the social safety net that regulates advertising claims and rationalize that if there weren’t something different, they wouldn’t be able to put the words on the box.

70 pence more per pack for the secret ingredients and pink color.

Double the price for the pink color and placebo effect?

I think, “OK, I will try it this one time and if it doesn’t work, I will never buy it again.” Angry decisions made on the first day of your period are irrevocable, as we all know and so does the manufacturer.  It is a basic reality of fast-moving consumer goods that they can’t survive without repeat purchase.  So the question is whether enough of us will think Nurofen for women works to buy it again.  This leads to another cognitive risk, even for thinking women: the dread placebo effect.  There is always a real possibility we will think an over-the-counter drug works, even if it has no functional ingredients. But. . .  I guess if you think it reduces your pain, that is the same as reducing your pain, right?

Cognition is not a cut-and-dried sort of thing, you see, and it does not always conform to what classical economics tells us is rational.  Let’s look at the recent scandal of the Bic pen for women.  Ellen DeGeneres was asked to plug for this silly thing and responded by making a hilarious commercial spoof.

I especially love the line where she says “and it comes in both lady colors, pink and purple.” I can remember shopping the boys department for my daughters’ clothes because I just could not bear turning around to look into the back seat of my standard-issue Jeep Cherokee Momcar and seeing them sitting there, dressed yet again in the pink/purple/turquoise scheme that girls are meant to live in. It was like trying to escape a sensory deprivation tank–too much sameness.

A few days after watching this video, I was pondering the consumer conundrum of “lady colors” in the bath, which is where I do my best thinking.  So I was staring at my toes coming out of the bubbles (a whispering thought trying to break through my theorizing to tell me it was time for a pedicure).  Suddenly, the background shifted into foreground as I noticed the pink disposable razor on the side of the bath.  “Oh no!” I thought.  It is true: they come in dark blue, bright yellow, and pink, but I always pick the pink if it is available. And Bic makes it.

“Why do I buy the pink razor?” my inner sage asked. “To avoid the blue and yellow,” was my lame excuse.  To be honest, I do the same thing with pens.  I just get tired of the blue and black, same as not wanting to buy any more pink and purple girl clothes.  People do regulate their sensory input because the mind cannot take too much sameness or too much difference.  So, I guess, at some level, these choices are “rational.”

But, truthfully, it’s hard to qualify “I’ll take the pink one,” as a very deep thought.  It’s more of an impulse.  And, ok, I admit it:  I do like pink and will pick that color as a novelty (even with painkillers). It’s a terrible private confession to admit you will pick the pink one, a bit like admitting you seldom wash your sheets or something.  But there it is.  And  we can complain we have been insulted by Bic, but they probably, actually, already know this terrible secret about us.  They learned it on the razors.

"This little bot of mine" is the slogan for Jibo, a "family robot" developed by Cynthea Breazeal and her team at MIT.

“This little bot of mine” is the slogan for Jibo, a “family robot” developed by Cynthea Breazeal, in the photo here, and her team at MIT.

Mary, one of my senior doctoral students, sent me a story about Jibo, a new “family robot” concept coming out of MIT.  Very cute.  Speaks and moves like a cartoon character.  In the video, Jibo is taking pictures at parties, remembering appointments, and ordering takeout. (I wonder if it will choose birthday gifts and send thank you notes?) Jibo basically acts as an outboard cogito. Like many others in these days of information overload, my attention is reaching its limits. Jibo could take over some of the burden of thought. I want one.

Because, honestly, the real problem is that I have more to think about than the color of my razor.  I have a lot of writing to do and calculations to crunch and speeches to compose. But, even more to the point, I am always engaged in work that is challenging to the existing power structure–and that inevitably means I am dealing with pushback. Which causes an ongoing backdrop of mental stress.

When you’re engaging in a contest of wills, you need an anthem to steel your nerve, boost your energy, and remind yourself who and what you are fighting for. You know, like Rocky. So, I maintain a playlist of “go girl” music that acts as a mental soundtrack.  A few weeks ago, my daughter Liza  sent me a whole playlist of country-and-western “strong woman” songs.

I bought this car when Caitlin was born in 1984. My thinking was that I would have a jeep instead of a station wagon, at the time the stereotypical car for stay-at-home moms.  Apparently, hundreds of thousands of new moms had the same idea that year.  They also named their daughters Caitlin.

I bought this car when Caitlin was born in 1984. My thinking was that I would have a jeep instead of a station wagon, at the time the stereotypical car for stay-at-home moms. Apparently, hundreds of thousands of new thinking moms had the same idea that year. They also named their daughters Caitlin.

A song on the list, Shania Twain’s, “Man, I Feel Like A Woman,” reminded me of Liza’s angsty teenager era. We could set aside thoughts of our bruising emotional issues by piling into the Cherokee Momcar (by then on its last leg), getting on one of the endless highways of rural Illinois, rolling down the windows, and blasting our singalong strong songs.  We sang that Shania Twain song together and bonded over Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter,” as close to a girl Rocky song as you can get.

The real fighters in the consumer arena right now are the thinking mothers who have formed Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.  They are using their spending power to push big chains like Kroger to ban people carrying guns from their stores. “What?  Guns in grocery stores?” you may ask.  Yes, it is outrageous.  Unthinkable, you might argue.  But this is America, where guns are an everyday accessory and fighting is done with your wallet.  Help them out. The hashtag is #GroceriesNotGuns.

I have wondered why women haven’t organized to boycott on this issue.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving was a powerful force in changing attitudes and enforcement.  Now I think American women need to turn the same kind of thinking against Hobby Lobby for causing this horrible block against birth control.  I think the hashtag should be #ShopMichaels.

In the end, I guess what matters about the things “thinking women” buy is how they fit into the subjective experience of life: interrupting the same old flow of colors, stopping the perception of pain, easing the endless barrage of appointments, pumping up our mental energy, bonding our memories to others, and focusing on good causes. Our choices are sometimes, but seldom, about the cost of ingredients.

Most of the time, though, thinking women just don’t want to think about products at all. So, like everybody else, they just pick up what they bought last time, a handy heuristic that keeps the cognitive engagement with shopping to a minimum.  And, yes, that “take it off the shelf without thinking” habit is what keeps the big brands. . . well, big.  But it is also what keeps human thought focused on what’s important–and it’s not shopping.

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Gender Capitalism: The Time is Now

Jackie Vanderbrug, an SVP at US Trust, speaking on gender lens investing at Power Shift.

Jackie Vanderbrug, an SVP at US Trust, speaking on gender lens investing at Power Shift.

The Rise of Gender Capitalism,” an article in the current issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review, focuses on the emerging interest in “gender lens investing”–and reaches toward a radical new vision of economic systems and behaviors.

The authors, Sarah Kaplan and Jackie Vanderbrug, begin with an emphasis that “making change means looking at the socially constructed roles, relationships, and expectations of women and men and the ways that these are reinforced by educational, political, economic, and cultural systems.” I have italicized those last few words to call attention to the fact that Kaplan and Vanderbrug’s vision does not stop at investing in women entrepreneurs or promoting women in finance careers (though both these items are included in the desired outcomes), but goes on to challenge the way that gender has constructed the global financial system.

We have been taught that the financial system is “objective,” a finely tuned machine that follows the flows of risk, rates, and returns as perfectly as if it were keyed to the music of the spheres. It is precisely this belief that blinds us to the reality of systemic bias.

As long as we think financial decisions are neutral, the statistics showing the huge gender gap in, for instance, access to credit for businesses (which Kaplan and Vanderbrug peg at $320 billion worldwide, a figure consistent with other expert estimates), must somehow be something women deserve.

As long as we believe that the global gender gap in bank account ownership “just happens,” then women will continue to be poorer than men.

As long as we don’t question why females grow up less financially literate than males–everywhere–then we must conclude that little girls are not as bright as little boys.

As long as we accept that venture capitalists use “analytical rigor” to make their investment choices, then the low percentage of women who are funded (6% according to Kaplan and Vanderbrug) by the 96% of venture capitalists who are male must be a function of our own cognitive weaknesses.

As long as we are content that the projects and companies backed by the investment community represent an “objective”and inclusive vision, then we must surrender to the future that follows.

Instead, Kaplan and Vanderbrug—along with a growing number of advocates, including me—ask you to consider another possibility. They ask you to look at the system to see how gender actually determines its structure. When you look through that perspective, it is called “using a gender lens.” Let me give you a couple of trial peeks through that lens.

Author Sarah Kaplan, a business professor at University of Toronto, with two other gender impact investment enthusiasts, Laurie Spengler (Enclude) and Suzanne Biegel (Clearly So), at the opening reception for Power Shift 2014.

On the right, Author Sarah Kaplan, a business professor at University of Toronto, with two other gender impact investment enthusiasts, Laurie Spengler (Enclude) and Suzanne Biegel (Clearly So), at the opening reception for Power Shift 2014.

I have been writing up a case study about one of the Walmart Empowering Women Together suppliers. The Kenyan entrepreneur makes a distinctively African line of accessories. She pays cash for materials, has her workers make the goods, then delivers to retailers who demand 30 days to pay. She is chronically late paying wages and turns down orders because she has no cash for materials. Every new order waits for payment on the last one. If she could take work as it comes, her business would thrive.

“Easy,” you say, “what this woman needs is a revolving line of credit.” As a Kenyan gender investment advocate, Kanini Mutooni, explained to me, women own 52% of startups in Kenya, but only 7% have accessed capital. Why? Because banks will not lend money to anyone who cannot pledge title to land as collateral. And women have title to only 1% of the land. “Well,” you may speculate, “pledging collateral is a common practice and a neutral one. If women had been more successful, they would have land to pledge.” But the reason the land ownership is so skewed is that inheritance laws have stipulated that land can only pass from male to male.

So, far from being a gender-neutral criterion, the Kenyan banking rule keeps money out of the hands of women by resting on a gender-biased law that has kept land out of their hands, as well. Together, these two restrictions form mutually re-enforcing, load-bearing walls in a financial structure built only for men.

The Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford was the first to sign the petition for women's financial inclusion at Power Shift.  To see how you can sign it, too, keep

The Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford was the first to sign the petition for women’s financial inclusion at Power Shift. To see how you can sign it, too, keep reading!

A North American business we are studying makes gluten-free baking mixes. The owner started this company with the money from the sale of a food company she and her husband built together. She used some of her money to get this new enterprise of her own started. This thing has really taken off–she has a huge operation now and major grocery chains are her customers. But she had to self-fund everything because the local banks will not lend her any money, including the one she and her husband dealt with in the previous business.

This entrepreneur and her husband are both furious. They both insist that if he presented the application, the bank would see the previous business as a good track record and an indication that his next attempt would be successful. The bank would lend him money. But that track record does not belong equally to her. If a couple builds a business, the assumption is that it is his, not hers.

Interestingly, several local enterprises were started by men about the time hers began. They have all been given bank credit and, as a result, their businesses have all grown faster than hers. The common “explanation” would be that women just don’t want to “grow their businesses” the way men do. Or that women tend to cluster in industries, including food, where the growth is slower and therefore less attractive to capital. So it’s all about women making the wrong choices, not bankers being biased.

Now imagine this same decision being made over and over and over. Multiplied a million times, you have whole industries that don’t grow because there are too many women in them (just as pay drops in industries where there more women than men). And then you have bankers who refuse to lend to certain industries on the “neutral” criterion that they have slower growth.

So why don’t these silly women just move into industries that grow?  Like, maybe, auto parts or shipping?  If you think that would solve the problem, you must believe that the banks would find a woman in one of those male-dominated industries credible enough to extend credit to her.  (Are you kidding?)  And you would have to turn a blind eye to all the efforts males in such industries make (bullying, harassment, sabotage) to keep women out.  Just as they do in, for instance, finance.

sarahkaplanclasssm

That’s Sarah Kaplan, right smack in the middle of the picture, in the class where we were teaching “Finance After Hours.”

For Power Shift this year, Jia Fei Jin and I wrote a teaching case called “Finance After Hours.” The name of the case referred to the “cultural requirement” that Chinese entrepreneurs go out for long boozy nights with their bankers (often followed by visits to prostitutes). Women business-owners do not want to do this. The bank says the women are not sociable and so they can’t be trusted.  All this is framed as Chinese custom.  But the phenomenon is the same in The City and on Wall Street:  a persistent custom of socializing in settings that would make women uncomfortable and put them at risk acts as a barrier to both women seeking capital and women trying to build careers in finance.

Why does this happen everywhere?  Good question.  The history of women and money (you can see a nice summary by the Guardian here) is a long list of rights won and then taken back and won again.  Whether you look at the history of Egypt or Rome or Europe, whether you consider the Hebrews, the Muslims, the Hindus, or the Visigoths, you will find that the question of women’s access to money and property is always contested.  It is not enough to marvel that the inheritance laws in Kenya were also the rule in the “advanced” nations until maybe 100 years ago–and are still the norm in the developing world today.  It is not enough to express shock that women in the US could not open a bank account without their husbands present to give permission until the 1960s–or that, in the UK, this didn’t change until 1975!

We must go one step further.  Because the history is told in rights won and lost, in every period and in every region, we must realize that the default position (literally the setting that is always there unless you change it) is that women did not participate in the money system.  This is the basic premise of the “objective” global apparatus we have inherited.

It’s time to insist on being fully included.

So, put on your gender glasses and join the movement.  As a first step, you can join with Jackie and Sarah and me and all the Power Shift folks to sign a petition to ask that women’s financial inclusion be part of the next round of international development goals. Just click here to read about petition and it will take you through to the Change.org site. Be sure and read the “Rise of Gender Capitalism,” as it will give you ammunition.  Then, square your shoulders, go out there, and start asking the questions, challenging the assumptions, and demanding the evidence.  The system is not neutral.

 

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Business School Gender Inequality: What’s to Be Done?

bandaid

It’s going to take more than a bandaid. Solving gender inequality in business schools requires facing hard truths and righting past wrongs.

In a recent Bloomberg Businessweek blog, I used statistics provided by AACSB to show that US business schools have an entrenched gender discrimination problem. B-School leaders tend to shrug and turn their palms up, blaming women for their own unequal treatment. But it is pretty clear from those graphs that there is an institutional–not an individual–problem.

Even if the business schools can accept that their female faculty are not just digging their own graves, there is still a tendency to act as if there is nothing that can be done to change the situation. In particular, apologists point to pools of incoming female faculty who gradually just disappear, year after year, as if by magic!  The thoughtless response is just to hire more, rather than to take a sincere look in the mirror and ask what might be alienating these women.

Actually, I think the necessary steps are pretty obvious.  It’s just that these are more onerous remedies than most business schools are prepared to undertake.  The key things to be done:

In some cases, the pay disparity between men and women is not very much and in some cases, it is quite a lot.  The size of the disparity is not the point:  look at the pattern.  The fact that the inequality exists across the entire sample of 604 US business schools, visible in the aggregate at every level in every discipline indicates that pay inequity is not an individual, but an institutional problem.

In some cases, the pay disparity between men and women is not very much and in some, it is a lot. The size of the disparity is not the point: look at the pattern. The fact that the inequality exists across the entire sample of 604 US business schools, visible in the aggregate at every level in every discipline, indicates that pay inequity is not an individual, but an institutional problem.

1. Equalize compensation.  The only meaningful indicator of true commitment to diversity is equal pay.  Without that, everything else is window-dressing.

2.  Recognize that the real problem happens after they come through the door.  Making a sincere effort to improve the environment means facing up to some hard truths.  It can only be done by having candid conversations between male and female colleagues.  Silencing those who try to speak about this issue–either through ridicule or anger–is counterproductive.

3. Change the culture in the classroom.  The combative tenor of MBA teaching perpetuates an antique view of business as cutthroat and back-stabbing.  More women students and gender teaching materials will help, but as long as the teaching culture remains aggressive, young female faculty will leave in droves. To evaluate these young teachers based only on the feedback from students, especially given the tenor of these particular classrooms, is inexcusable.

This is what happens to female faculties across all disciplines within business schools.  From left, they are hired in at just under 40% of the new intake, but dwindle to under 20% of full professors.

This is what happens to female faculties across all disciplines within business schools. From left, they are hired in at just under 40% of the new intake, but dwindle to under 20% of full professors.

4.  Rethink the whole “hard methods” ideology.  It is embarrassingly out of date and ill-founded. It is also probably used too often as a cover for discrimination.

I am constantly amazed by the lengths to which people will go to excuse this situation, to “explain” it by all manner of narrow-minded remarks. The business schools need to shed this defensiveness and focus on solutions.

There is no point in pretending this isn't a power issue. On the left, we see men and women starting out in the lower ranks together. Sixteen years later, the women are still in the lower ranks, but the men are in the positions that make decisions over all others. Since 2004, matters have only worsened. This graph is from Shani Carter's 2010 analysis of US Dept of Education data. See the Bloomberg Blog for more about it.

There is no point in pretending this isn’t a power issue. On the left, we see men and women starting out in the lower ranks together. Sixteen years later, the women are still in the lower ranks, but the men are in the positions that make decisions over all others. Since 2004, matters have only worsened. This graph is from Shani Carter’s 2010 analysis of US Dept of Education data. See the Bloomberg Blog for more about it.

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A Train Wreck of Clichés, Another Barbie for the Landfill

The hashtag is good.  The doll is what it is.  The engagement with entrepreneurship is what is tedious and disturbing.

The sentiment is on target. The hashtag is great. The doll is what it is. But the engagement with entrepreneurship is tedious. And the discarded Barbies everywhere don’t need a new friend.

I have been steeling myself to write about Entrepreneur Barbie for about six weeks. You can imagine how many people sent me links about the newest incarnation of our favorite fashion doll, given that I am the Seriously-Titled Entrepreneurship person at Oxford, as well as an unrepentant first generation Barbie fan.  Nevertheless, the whole promotion felt like a train wreck of clichés and I had a hard time forcing myself to look.

My heart sank just to read the first, all-too-predictable reports from Salon, Elle, the Wire, and so on.  At Salon, Sarah Gray turned the light on for all of us by pointing out that Barbie’s body is impossible to achieve. Wow, what an insight!  Gray thinks it’s great to have a doll encouraging girls to go into tech, but she thinks girls should not be limited to playing with dolls. Also, she wants us to know that real power women are better than dolls.  At Elle, Amy Lawrenson asked why Barbie always wears pink, when real power women wear other colors. (Note to Amy:  Barbie is a brand. Her color is pink.) Danielle Weider-Bronner at the Wire complimented Entrepreneur Barbie on her stylish clothes and up-to-date electronic accessories, but was ultimately disappointed because Barbie’s ambitions were too vague and “buzzword-y.” (Is this serious?  Criticizing a toy for not having a fleshed-out business plan?) Real power women have focused aspirations and never use buzzwords.  We all know that.

Nobody ever criticizes Raggedy Ann for telling little girls they must have red hair and floppy arms.

Nobody ever criticizes Raggedy Ann for telling little girls they must have red hair and floppy arms. And nobody ever worries that Transformers are unrealistic.  This whole critique has become a ridiculous waste of breath. It is also ultimately sexist because it presumes little girls are just, well, dumber than little boys.

OK, so just very quickly, for Amy, Danielle, and Sarah.  It’s a doll. Children of both sexes use toys as props for imaginative play. Normally, the toys are not required to be particularly realistic–spaceships, teddy bears, and superheroes come to mind–and, actually, children often project their imaginations on ordinary objects to transform them into something else anyway (broomsticks become horses, a spoon becomes an airplane, and so on).  Girls are not “limited” to dolls because they, like boys, can turn just about anything into a toy simply by an act of imaginative will. It’s what humans-in-training do.  This kind of imaginative work with concrete objects is also a “must have” skill for any future entrepreneur.

Dolls only dimly resemble real people, in most cases.  Dora the Explorer’s head is way too big for her body. Raggedy Ann has a red triangle for a nose. We do not worry that Gumby is unrealistic. It doesn’t matter. Representation of reality is not the point.

I suppose real people can stand in for dolls, if they are willing to play along (join the child in a game of dress-up, for instance), but power women, especially, have limited time for such activities.  Substituting real people for dolls (as Sarah Gray seems to suggest by telling us to “skip the doll”) is probably not very practical, however.

For instance, dolls have to undergo a serious amount of physical abuse, probably not appropriate for people. They are dragged around by the legs and left under the bed for days.  They are fed unidentifiable things found outdoors.  Any Barbie my daughters had endured the same progressive fate.  They undid her hair and undressed her.  They cut her hair completely off.  They drew on her naked body with ballpoint pens.  They threw her to the bottom of the closet.  Each new Barbie ended up face down in a mass grave of earlier Barbies, all of whom once had different careers (astronaut, doctor, President), but were ultimately indistinguishable from each other.

In 1959, you bought the Barbie and then collected the clothes.  See the illustrated panel?  You could buy all those clothes in individual packets, sans doll.

In 1959, you bought the Barbie and then collected the clothes. See the illustrated panel? You could buy all those clothes in individual packets, sans doll, all accessorized for use.

Which brings me to another point of ambivalence about this whole promotion.  Why do we need another Barbie at all?  The first generation Barbie doll was a prized possession.  You collected her clothes, which were reflective of a number of occasions or activities and packaged with tiny accessories designed to facilitate the imagined setting.  My favorite was  Solo in the Spotlight (very cool slinky dress, standup microphone, pink scarf for onstage prop).  Playing with Barbie was like a tiny version of dress-up or 3D paperdolls.  Your friends gathered, each brought their doll and whatever clothes they had, and, collectively, you spun a narrative.  It was classic toy-playing.

I am sure little girls do something similar with today’s Barbie, but they seem to need a whole new doll for every scenario.  The bodies keep stacking up.  I can’t imagine the things ever degrade.  Envision aliens discovering a massive landfill with nothing but discarded Barbies in it.  A Barbie is sold every three seconds. Think about it.

So, do we need an Entrepreneur Barbie?  No.  We don’t need any new Barbies, except perhaps Sustainable Barbie.

Give a kid  a collection of clothes and accessories and he or she can create a whole world out of it.  Same with dolls.  It is an important building block for creating innovative products and envisioning alternative futures.

Give a kid a collection of clothes and accessories and he or she can create a whole world out of it. Same with dolls. Playing with toys is an important building block for creating innovative products and envisioning alternative futures.

This new Barbie is also one more bit of evidence that the society has gone crazy chasing the entrepreneurship bandwagon. And, honestly, that was the part that really gave me the creeps, since all these other issues are such well-trodden ground.  The push toward entrepreneurship is, underneath, an orchestrated, last ditch effort to maintain growth.  Yes, we probably need to do that for a while so that people can have jobs. But rather than chasing growth blindly and overly glamorizing it, we need to slow down and seriously rethink our collective goals.  We need to use the imaginations we built in childhood to project all the possible paths where growth might ultimately lead and choose our way carefully.

I truly believe that entrepreneurship is an important means for women to improve their standing and gain autonomy. But much about the world of entrepreneurship in the current popular imagination is profoundly masculine. There the role models are not women at all, but white guys in ties.  In tech, the exemplars are often guys who are known for their misogyny. I agree we need more women in tech–not arguing that one–and so we need little girls to imagine themselves as scientists.  But I also think that science and business institutions need to be civilized before we are going to make much actual progress. Being demeaned, insulted, groped, or just generally grossed out–a reality that seems prevalent for women in the tech domain–is likely to override many pleasant hours playing with Legos.

My biggest concern, however, is the way all this rah-rah for entrepreneurs distracts us from the urgent need to reform the formal workplace, especially because of the coming care crisis. “Opting out” won’t work for everybody: women often start businesses thinking they will have more time for family and are severely disappointed.

Indeed, entrepreneurship doesn’t work for most people.  More than 90% of start-ups fail. If you’ve been humming the pop riff that failure is just a stop on the way to riches, use your childhood imagination for a moment to picture being dead broke and in debt, unable to provide for yourself, never mind your family.  Failure is not glamorous.  And most people don’t keep going.  Usually, they can’t.  They have to go back to work.

When failed entrepreneurs go back to work, they do so having lost years when they could have been building a career, a pension, seniority, savings.  They have to start over as if they were coming out of school all over again. That’s why you do, in fact, need to have a very focused and concrete idea about your business, a carefully vetted business plan, and a lot of passion for what you are doing. Starting a business is not a trip to Zara.  Tossing off the results and trying on something new, over and over again, is not something most people have the stomach to do. Entrepreneurship has consequences.

Budding entrepreneur or wannabe Barbie?  You tell me.

Budding entrepreneur or wannabe Barbie? You tell me.

When I go to these women’s entrepreneurship networking events, I am often dismayed by the young women clicking about in their too-high heels and short skirts (real would-be power women trying their damnedest to look like Barbie), talking about their ambitions in overblown, wall-to-wall MBA-speak (that is, being very “buzzword-y” and largely free from focus).  This is not to mention they interrupt each schmooze moment at least once to tweet on their up-to-date accessories.  Does this mean these women are not smart, not serious, and not successful–or that there aren’t focused business plans in their briefcases? No, it does not.

And, apparently, several successful young entrepreneurs consulted with Mattel on the design of Entrepreneur Barbie. Looks to me like the result is pretty realistic, as dolls go.

One last note about Barbie’s body.  Her shape came about as the result of a choice made by the female entrepreneur who invented her.  All the guys at Mattel, then a small, family-owned company, pooh-poohed Ruth Handler’s idea to make a 3D paper doll with real clothes.  They said they couldn’t make an adult doll!  Ruth found a prototype in a German doll that featured in “adult” cartoons and brought it back to show it could be done.  The engineers imitated the prototype. The rest is history.  Just like Apple.  Or any number of other stories about entrepreneurs that we admire. Indeed, the best story of Barbie’s origin is about the women–designers, producers, and so on–who made her.  See Fresh Lipstick, chapter 9.

 

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