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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Manly Metaphors and Academic Power Games

We could relabel this diagram according to the gender hierarchy in geology:  real men at the inner core, wannabe men hanging around in the outer core, cowards and lazy boys seeking safety in the mantle, and girls peering in from the muddy fringe.

We could relabel this diagram to correspond to the geologic gender hierarchy: real men at the inner core, wannabe men hanging around in the outer core, cowards and lazy boys seeking safety in the mantle, and girls peering in from the muddy fringe.

Years ago, I went out with a renowned geology professor.  He was a lovely man, intelligent and funny. Also modest about his accomplishments, in an endearing way.

One evening he explained to me, in a lightly self-mocking voice, that one of the reasons his work commanded so much respect was that he studied the deepest parts of the earth, the volcanic core.  He had to travel to one of very few special labs around the world, once or twice a year, to do his research.  With a chuckle, he observed that this gave him status because, in geology, the harder the rocks you studied, the bigger deal you were. Volcanic rocks were best. The ones closest to the earth’s center were the highest status of all. If you liked sedimentary stone, you were doomed to lesser journals and lower salaries.

“So, you mean like ‘real men do hard rocks’?” I asked incredulously.  “Exactly,” he said, shrugging.  We went on for a few minutes discussing the way that arbitrary compartmentalizations of a field very often determine status in academics.  And then we mused about how gender metaphors were often overlaid on these classifications of power.  It wasn’t enough that “doing hard rocks” made you a good scholar, it also made you more manly.  And, by implication, the softer your rocks, the softer everything else about you was presumed to be.

bigandlittlerocksmThis “hard rocks versus soft rocks” schema is a perfect example of a useful concept that 50 years of Marxist thought brought to the academy:  ideology.  Sociologists, anthropologists, and all other social science disciplines have learned that people develop patterns of belief that dress up and justify their power systems. Such a belief pattern (the ideology), wherever you find one, shares with all other such clusters of thought one distinguishing characteristic:  if you poke at it even a little bit, it becomes obvious bullshit (in Marxist terminology, its “contradictions” are revealed), nevertheless, people go about their lives, setting their clocks to it and allocating their food by it.  They treat it as a given and the belief becomes utterly invisible to them (“naturalized,” as they used to say).

Think these kinds of desert rock formations are cool?  Look away quickly!  The very impulse could make you girly.

Think these kinds of desert rock formations are cool? Look away quickly! That impulse could make you girly.

My guess is that somewhere out there in geology, you would find women studying hard rocks and muscle men studying dirt. I suspect there is nothing inherently more demanding about studying one or the other type of rock–and that you have to be pretty smart to make a career out of researching any of it. The molten rock thought to surround the earth’s core throws a wrench into the whole metaphor. Nevertheless, this is the organizing belief system and I have no doubt that money and prestige and promotions follow it, because that is what happens in every discipline.

Today, Bloomberg Businessweek posts a blog I wrote in response to the recent flap over the bad gender situation at UCLA’s business school.  The essay argues that the gender politics at UCLA are not unique, but merely a microcosm of a power struggle that occurs across the entire field.  Thanks to the folks at the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, I was able to get data to illustrate the resulting inequalities–such as lower pay for women at every level in every discipline for the whole sample of reporting US schools.  And I have addressed the most easily understood myths used to “explain” these discriminatory acts: women love children, women are bad at math, and women shouldn’t care about money. The academic ideology, however, is probably a bit much for a business blog. So here goes.

In business school ideology, only real men have the muscle to wield "hard" methods.  Like men use swords and women use knitting needles, get it?

In business school ideology, only real men have the muscle to wield “hard” methods. Like, men use swords and women are afraid, get it?

In business schools, the ideology is something about real men using “hard methods” and women using “soft” ones. The “hard” and “soft” in this case is mapped on to mathematics, rather than rock density. Using the most threadbare of gender stereotypes, discriminatory actions are widely justified with the assertion that women don’t use quantitative methods. Qualitative methods–where you interview or observe, then write up what you found–are said to be “soft.” Women are thought to use soft methods because they are not good at math and are afraid to handle the research tools men use.

It’s easy to see that volcanic rocks are harder than sand or mud, but what, exactly, is it that is harder about quantitative methods? Well, immediately, the implication is that doing math is simply more difficult than speaking and writing. Thus, women are not as smart as men and should be treated accordingly.

The whole body of research into the cognitive abilities of men versus women in mathematics has this bottom line:  there is no difference. Furthermore, to my knowledge, no one has ever done a study to determine whether women, in fact, do less quantitative research than men in business schools. I find that male colleagues project on me that I only do qualitative research, when in fact I use multiple methods, including laboratory experiments and randomized controlled trials–and I am currently designing a major measurement system. The truth is most colleagues really don’t know much about what I do and, after all, I am visibly female and, therefore, must be “soft.” So, I wonder, do women actually do less “quant” work?  I don’t think we know.

Topics are also “soft” and “hard.” Sometimes the judgment depends only on whether the phenomenon can be measured; sometimes it’s just a topic that the majority of business academics (overwhelmingly male) don’t like, don’t see as important. The fact that I do research on women makes me not only soft, but irrelevant to business, as I have been told too many times to count. Other women in business schools report getting sorted into the same derisive bins–and, indeed, one of the most disturbingly familiar aspects of the UCLA situaton was that the men were constantly trashing the women’s research abilities and topics. In this usage, “hard” means “important in the eyes of men.”

There is also a weird belief that somehow by translating something–anything–into numerical form, you make it “harder.”  So, if instead of saying “there are two bags of marshmallows in the cupboard as well as three cans of beans,” you create a “taxonomy” of what is in the cupboard and count what goes into each category (as in “bags of marshmallows, 2; cans of beans, 3″), the whole exercise suddenly becomes “hard.”  Both marshmallow bags and bean cans are miraculously transformed into suitably hard topics for research–despite all sensory evidence to the contrary–just by counting and noting with numbers rather than looking and writing the same information in words. At one time, I think you could have sold this notion to alchemists. Why do 21st century academics buy it?

The hard method school seems to feel that using numbers gives them mastery over the external world.  So they get an illusion of control that they wouldn't otherwise have. They also claim that using numbers gives them the ability to predict the future.  Numerologists, of course, say the same thing.

The hard method school seems to feel that using numbers gives them mastery over the external world. So they get an illusion of control that they wouldn’t otherwise have. They also claim that using numbers gives them the ability to predict the future. Numerologists, of course, say the same thing.

Back in the day, there may have been some justification for saying quantitative methods were harder.  You had to collect the data yourself, in large enough quantities to analyze the sample statistically, and then do the calculations by hand (or, even worse, spend hours writing routines or making computer cards that did it). No doubt it was hard work, in the sense that it was time-consuming and required concentration.

Today, B-school quant scholars use software to do the calculations and they very often buy or beg databases from a secondary source. I often think about my colleagues, sitting in front of their screens doing point-and-click research, when Catherine and I are out in some remote area of a developing country collecting data. Where we are, it will be hot, the roads will be dangerous, the toilets will be non-existent, the threat of infection everywhere, wi-fi a distant memory, and it will take weeks on end to finish.  Yet, in the eyes of business school ideology, we are doing the easy stuff.

In the feminine work domain, the real power tool is a checkbook.  It is simply easier to pay somebody than to do it yourself.  Personally, I think this axiom applies to data collection in research, just as in housework.

In the stereotypically feminine work domain, the real power tool is a checkbook. It is simply easier to pay somebody than to do it yourself. Personally, I think this axiom applies to data collection in research, just as in housework.

Contradictions revealed:  the hard methods are not “hard,” in the sense of more difficult, more dangerous, more time-consuming, or even more challenging. They do not require heavy lifting, but can be done sitting at your desk.  And we don’t even really know whether men and women use these methods as alleged–it’s all just a metaphor. The discourse is so wrapped up with images of gender it is tempting to think “hard” is merely a signifier for masculinity.

Indeed, it’s telling that the “soft” metaphor, when it gets applied to men, is emasculating.  Just as the men who study sedimentary rock are made “girly” by the ideology, so are the men in business schools who either use qualitative methods or study topics that the “real men” don’t think matter (like, for instance, poverty).  I had an angry, but funny note from a male colleague in a US business school this week.  He is among the most published scholars in our field, but he is constantly under attack because he advocates for the importance of qualitative work.  In this email, he was talking about how all the hiring this year will be for people who do “big data.”  Big data, he said, “is a bandwagon that never seems to get full.”

The "hard method" language is so thoroughly conflated with terms of masculinity in this discipline that I often suspect "hard" really means something like "tumescent."

The “hard method” language is so thoroughly conflated with terms of masculinity in this discipline that I often suspect “hard” really means something like “tumescent.”

I laughed because “big data” is all the rage everywhere in the B-School world right now.  I hope I don’t have to spell it out for you that the combination of “big” and “hard data” is impossibly thrilling for this testosterone culture.

In sum, the whole “hard methods” thing, like “hard rocks,” is just the belief pattern that has grown up to justify the power structure.  Both are equally absurd, but also equally useful as a tool to divide the men from the boys and certainly the males from the females. “Hard methods” is brilliant as an excuse to pay someone less, because it can imply that the person is both less intelligent and less hard-working, therefore less deserving, whether true or not. As another perfect illustration of ideology, the business school fantasy of hardness is riddled with contradictions and lacks an evidentiary basis. And you don’t have to poke fun at it long to learn it is composed of obvious bullshit.

 

 

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Third Good Reason: Better Governance

Slide6Getting more women to the top of business leadership is an objective that should be as important to all of us as putting more females into political office.  Corporations decide many things about our daily lives, from what we eat to where we work to what we wear to how much we are paid.  I am always dismayed to hear someone who is otherwise strongly in favor of women’s empowerment dismiss the issue of women on corporate boards as an “elite” concern. That is a knee-jerk reaction (I always suspect the speaker is just posturing as a proper populist) when in fact having more diverse leadership in these posts would positively affect everybody, not just the rich.

Multiple studies, using large samples and various methods, have demonstrated that greater gender diversity among corporate boards would have a positive impact on the governance, transparency, and accountability of the private sector, as well as improving its overall performance and reducing risk.  Yet, throughout the world, women are represented in tiny numbers at the board level.

Given the widespread belief that the crash of 2008 was caused by homogeneous insiders who failed to question dubious decision-making, the promise of improving corporate accountability and performance by introducing more women is attractive to governments.  Such a reform is much less costly, cumbersome, and time-consuming–and probably more effective– than introducing and implementing a whole raft of regulation. Where quotas have been seriously proposed, the idea has been popular among citizens.

Not surprisingly, various groups have emerged to fight the suggestion of quotas.  Such organizations usually blow out a smokescreen of assertions that they support gender diversity–they merely question the method by which it might be accomplished.  They argue that unqualified women should not be imposed on private business, implying that such a rash act would negatively affect performance.  The specter of tokenism is raised: women should be asked to be on boards because they are qualified, not because they are women. The implicit next step is for businesses to have more time to act voluntarily–once there are enough qualified women around, it should be easy to increase the numbers.

This direction of argument is completely disingenuous.  First, the stance implies that, under current practice, corporate board members are chosen in an open, fair contest in which the most qualified candidate is found.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Corporate board selection is often done secretly and there has been a noticeable tendency to cronyism. To suggest that introducing diversity into an already inappropriately incestuous group would be “tokenism” is sheer sophistry. Perpetuating the traditional process just guarantees that the same close buddies will keep making bad decisions for everybody else.

But are there qualified women around? Well, that depends on what you think the qualifications should be.  Many of the big business schools have already produced lists of their own female graduates whom they deem to be “board-ready.” But the big obstacle is the claim that only those with board or CEO experience are qualified to be on boards. Those who put forward that argument hope listeners will not notice how unequal women’s chances are for getting into those positions–once again, they want you to think it is a race based on merit when it is not.

Slide31In 2010, the World Economic Forum did a study on the Corporate Gender Gap, which surveyed the top HR person at 100 of the biggest employers in 30 OECD and BRIC nations.  The pattern of advancement that they found was more or less the same in every nation surveyed: women are hired into management jobs in smaller numbers than men, even where they are the majority of employees overall (and even in countries where women are better educated than men), then they become a smaller and smaller group at each step higher in the corporate structure.  In the graph here, you can see that India has lower number of women overall in management positions (India only has 30% female labor force participation), but the stairstep pattern is the same as the global average.  The pattern is the same for the Scandinavian countries, with one exception, Norway.

Norway enacted a quota requiring 40% women on corporate boards–and, what do you know, they seem to be finding the women to fill the places! And, the need to have women on boards also appears to be helping women through the pipeline.

Over the long run, ensuring that there would be enough women to fill 30%+ of board seats (30% is a generally accepted threshold to be crossed before the people on the board settle into diversity and begin behaving in a civilized and accountable manner) would indeed require that countries do a better job of keeping women in the workplace, pulling them up through the ranks in numbers comparable to males.

When we look at the possible reasons for this “leaky pipeline” phenomenon, we might speculate that workplace hostility to children is a major problem, as the fertility decline discussed in the Second Good Reason post would suggest.  However, the attrition really begins well after the early child-rearing years, so there are probably other reasons.  In this same survey, most of the respondents (mostly men and all top employers) gave patriarchal corporate culture the top spot on the list of reasons why women can’t advance within their company.

Slide33Of the companies surveyed, very few were doing anything positive to promote gender diversity within their organization. Oddly, they seemed to think they did not need to track salary discrepancies.  I say “oddly” because there is a WEF question, asked every year for the Global Gender Gap Report, in which corporate managers consistently report that they pay women much less for the same or similar work.

Slide32Indeed, there is good reason to think that women really leave these companies because they simply get discouraged by the unequal treatment and the absence of real chances for advancement. That feeling may not get any better as you rise in the hierarchy.  OECD’s Closing the Gender Gap Report shows that pay inequality for women actually increases at the top (for more, see here). Ironically, many women at the top level are quite convinced there is no such thing as sex discrimination–yet they are likely the biggest victims.

I’m sorry to say there is little reason to think those same top-level women will do anything to help those lower in the ranks–research shows they tend to be fearful that the men will think they have a “woman agenda” if they promote other females (but nobody raises that with the men when they doggedly keep promoting their own). Nevertheless, the very fact of seeing another woman at the top has been shown to give hope and confidence to all those below her–and so the presence of a woman on the board or other top spot tends to correlate with better diversity right across the organization, as well as equal pay and other indicators of fairness.  Hard to say what the causality is there:  women at the top producing an equal, diverse workplace or, more likely, an equal and diverse workforce giving rise to more women at the top.

Let’s remember that many governments are wringing their hands over

(1) dropping fertility,

(2) crowds of poor old ladies to support in the future, and

(3) an economy that went haywire because a few rich men had it by the throat

then you can see why they might be interested in patching that leaky pipeline.  And when you also remember that equality legislation in most countries has been around for a while–nearly 50 years in the US and UK–there doesn’t seem much point in waiting for business to decide to clean up their act voluntarily.

In sum, there are very good economic reasons to start working in earnest on closing the gender gap.  We can reduce poverty and hostility.  We can maintain growth.  We can have better governance, more accountability, improved performance, and less risk in the private sector.  All these things are good for everybody. We do, actually, have good reasons to believe that the direction of causality is from gender equality to prosperity and peace.

These reasons are known by people working in some of the largest and most authoritative institutions in the world, which is why you see the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and OECD, as well as ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, and other corporates pushing this agenda.  What I have written in these three posts is not particularly controversial.  But there is a long way to go to make the world accountable for progress.  We have sat by for 50 years waiting for corporations to open up equal employment paths for women, for example, and we still have a drastically lop-sided workplace.  In developing countries, there are still basic rights to be won or enforced (the right to have your own bank account or own property, for instance) and local resistance to rights for women can be intense.

So, this is why it is important to get behind the movement to ensure women’s economic empowerment is on the next round of the United Nations’ economic development goals. The list of items that is finally ratified by the UN will have resources and attention–and every nation will have to report their progress against the goals.  If you want to help, click here for more information or just sign here.

The other “Three Good Reasons” posts are here.

 

 

 

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Second Good Reason: Maintain Growth

Slide21

In Eastern Europe, fertility has been below replacement rate for a generation already. (Click to see bigger image.)

As with all the benefits that come from closing the gender gap, the second good reason can be stated in both positive and negative terms.  You can say “maintain growth.”  Or you can say “avoid a total economic train wreck.” Why?  Because the second reason is all about fertility decline in the industrialized countries–and the implications of this trend are potentially devastating.  The solution is not to send women back to the kitchen, but to reform the workplace.

You see, the world economy is set up on the supposition that growth must be maintained.  It is certainly possible to question whether we should be chasing growth (and we really must think more carefully about where that ends), but, under the present ground rules, ever-increasing value is the ultimate measure on which everything economic stands or falls.  Whether you look at company performance or pension plans, the fundamental underpinning to this way of thinking is that the population (the market) is growing.  You can seek more markets elsewhere–which is what drives globalization–but in the end, there have to be more people, one way or the other.

We need ever more consumers to purchase goods or we need ever more families who will buy houses or we need ever more workers to pay for pensions.  Otherwise, companies can’t attract capital, the housing market collapses, or social support services go bust.  It’s unfortunate that previous generations set things up this way, but there you have it.

Most of us have been droning along for decades now, thinking that population is growing too fast. The big bugaboo for years has been that we have too many people and so we are at risk of drowning in our own refuse. But, actually, while we were marching along with this assumption in mind, a new trend cropped up, with eerie suddenness, all over the world, practically at once.  Population growth is going away.

Fertility is dropping rapidly everywhere, to a point where populations are actually contracting in some regions. The fertility rate reflects the long game: it is the average number of children females in a given place have during their lives. It is not a measure that can be characterized as a sudden or temporary dip and its trend cannot easily be reversed. To keep the numbers in a population stable, you need a fertility rate of about 2.1–that is each woman must replace herself and her partner, with a little extra overall to account for risk. At 1.8 or below, a population is clearly in decline. Much below that for very long and you can’t recover. Once babies are not born, you can’t reclaim them and if there are ever-shrinking numbers of potential parents, the whole situation starts to make a horrible sucking noise.

As of 2014 figures, 69 countries worldwide have fertility rates below 1.8, most of them in Europe.  Indeed, the European Union average fertility rate is 1.55.  The lowest numbers in Europe are in the eastern (Romania, Ukraine) or southern (Italy, Greece) areas.  There are a few outstanding examples among the most prosperous Western European countries, such as Germany, with a 2014 fertility rate of 1.43 (a Danish friend said to me:  “Yeah, yeah, we all know it:  don’t buy real estate in Germany”).  The Scandinavian countries are slightly better, between 1.75 and 1.85. The UK is hanging in at about replacement rate, mostly because there is a large immigrant population with higher birth rates (but this, too, is changing).

The East Asian outlook is the most dire:  Japan (1.3), Taiwan (1.11), Hong Kong (1.17), South Korea (1.25), and Singapore at the very bottom (0.8). The US, like the UK, is maintaining replacement so far, but Australia looks bleak.  Canada’s fertility has been dropping very quickly for the past five years (now at 1.61), but they have been well below replacement since at least the 1980s.

The blue line is the number of workers Poland will have if nothing is done about their attitude toward working women. though labor supply alone does not determine growth, this is a very scary line.   The middle line is how many more workers they would have if the female labor force participation rate began to converge with men's.  The  top line is what would happen if females began working the same number of hours as well.

The blue line is the number of workers Poland will have if nothing is done to include women. Labor supply alone does not determine growth, but this is a very scary line. The middle line is how many more workers they would have if the female labor force participation rate began to converge with men’s. The top line is what would happen if females began working the same number of hours as well.

When you reach the bottom of the nation lists–where fertility is 1.50 or lower–the pattern is dominated by Eastern Europe. These countries have been in steep decline for a long time.  Several also have outmigration issues.  Most have a labor supply outlook that looks like the graph for Poland on the left, where the decline in labor is set to drag substantially on future economic growth. And, all could significantly mitigate against the trend of a declining labor force if they had more women in the workplace, as the OECD forecast depicted here suggests. So, as I said, you can argue for closing the gender gap in order to “maintain growth” or to “avoid disaster.” It’s just a matter of how you want to spin it.

Like Poland, all the Eastern European countries in the table below have low fertility rates. You can see in the first column that they also have low female labor force participation rates (for an industrialized country, you are much more likely to see a number like 70% or even 75%, so 40% to 50% is very low). I have put two measures for equality of compensation in the next two columns.  These countries pay women an average of 60%-ish what they pay men, no matter how you measure it.

Slide1

You might speculate that Eastern European women are not as qualified as the men. But take a look at the ratio of female to male enrollment in tertiary education.  Women are far more likely to be educated than men. (If, for instance, women index at 130 compared to men, it means women are 30% more likely to be in college or similar upper level education.)  The women are also quite a bit more likely to be in professional and technical jobs–in some cases, more than twice as likely (index 200 or more).  However, notice that, despite their better preparation and propensity to be in skilled employment, women are far less likely to be in leadership positions (this measure covers government as well as private sector positions). In sum, despite better training and experience, women are less often employed, are paid less when they are (even for the same job), and do not have the same chances for advancement, as compared to men.

You’ve heard it a thousand times:  the “explanation” for this inequality is that the women “choose” to have children, thus allegedly volunteering to put themselves at a disadvantage in the workplace.  We might flip that self-justifying notion around and say that the workplaces in these countries are so unfriendly to families that women are forced to choose between setting aside all their training to have children or giving up family to pursue a career.

On a macro level, this forced choice results in both low fertility and low labor force participation. Please realize that, in these circumstances–where only 50% of the women work and the other 50% must have all the children–each non-working mother must have four children in order to replace the population.  Well, how often does that happen?  You can answer, I’m sure:  not often.  That’s why labor participation and the fertility rate suffer.

Slide28These countries and others with the same pattern are clinging to old gender norms to a degree that is actually hurting them. Further, by not realizing the investment in women’s education, these countries are making inefficient use of resources and driving down their national competitiveness. In the graph on the left, I have plotted The Economist‘s Women’s Economic Opportunity Index against the World Economic Forum’s National Competitiveness measure.  You can see the relationship: the better opportunities there are for women, the more competitive the country.  Countries that are still trying to keep their women barefoot and pregnant are, shall we say, “not working up to potential.”

Yet we all know these family-hostile working circumstances are present, one way or another, most places.  The situation is perhaps not as pronounced in the US or the UK as in Eastern Europe, but the women are sidelined on the basis of child-rearing in those countries, too–and it is reflected in their lower pay and poorer prospects. By making it difficult for mothers to work and penalizing all women just because they can have children, employers are creating the phenomenon of the “aging population”–in which the demographics shift from a situation where most of the people are young to one in which most of them are old.

People age inevitably, but populations do not. In the absence of plague or war, the only reason a population becomes disproportionately old is that women have fewer children.

Aging populations put a severe strain on economies because of the change in the dependency ratio. With a large number of elderly–as well as some children–dependent on the working population, the whole machine suffers to keep up. Importantly, the burden of care also shifts from a situation where most care is focused on small children to one where it is focused on the elderly and ill.  Of course, these same societies will expect the women to pitch up and care for the old folks, just as they have expected them to care for children. That is, they expect women to do this work for free and to suffer a systematic economic disadvantage to boot.

Children grow up quickly and go off to school.  They can often help around the house and are usually a joy to their parents.  The elderly, in contrast, age slowly.  Their dependency is protracted.  The experience of caring for them has few joys–in fact, it is often full of grief and loss. Asking women to shoulder all this care for decades on end will further contribute to the phenomenon of dependency–because the women themselves will necessarily be economically dependent while they are caring.

This just gives you some idea of the impact that decades of unequal pay has on pension payments.  This situation backfires in a major way for governnments left to take care of poor elderly women.

This just gives you some idea of the impact that decades of unequal pay has on pension payments. This situation backfires in a major way for governnments left to take care of poor elderly women.

The governments of the future will be strapped for resources to keep up with the demand in social services because the elderly will outnumber the working young.  Ironically, the situation will be intensified by two other gender phenomena:  (1) women live longer than men and (2) because they will have been paid less all their lives, older women will have fewer resources and thus will be more in need of government help.

We have, in the making right now, an aging population problem the likes of which the world has never seen. 

Slide26

Women are far more likely to be poor in their old age than men, often because they took off working to have children (which reduces savings and pension), in addition to being paid less throughout life, whether they have kids or not.

We should be making every effort to focus attention on the need to reform working conditions so that women can have children, as well as work on equal terms.  Those industrialized countries where it is relatively easier for women to do that are the ones where fertility rates are still pretty healthy, while the ones that make it really hard are the ones that are probably beyond saving. We need to stop punishing the women for having children and start blaming the employers for pushing whole societies over a cliff.

Some utopians will argue that we can invent robots to pitch in or that technology will provide gains in productivity to offset the decline in the number of people. I find it hard to believe we can build enough robots in time to empty that many bedpans. Even if we could, robots do not eat snack foods or go to university or buy their first car. Robots will not redecorate houses. They will not go Christmas shopping.

At some point, you have to have people. Yet we allow the discourse to continue as if child-bearing is a purely private matter, as if children are just ego-toys instead of investments in a future for everyone.  Think about this:  every time you go to a doctor or see a policeman or speak to a teacher, you are seeing the benefits of someone’s long years of care work.  If some mother somewhere had decided to stay at work, that person would not be there to cure your ills or stop crime or educate you.  In the end, we are all dependent on child-rearing.  To continue to behave as if child-bearing is a vanity choice for women that employers can rightly view as an economic burden they should not have to bear, is leading us to disaster.

If you are worried about this scenario, you can help by joining the movement to petition for women’s economic empowerment in the next round of United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.  It just takes a minute and the impact is potentially huge.  Click here.  

The other Three Good Reasons posts are here.

 

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First Good Reason: Reducing Poverty and Hostility

Slide13I now turn to the “first good reason” to empower women economically: reducing poverty and hostility. Let’s begin with the top 25 nations with the highest fertility rates, according to the CIA Factbook. If you look over this list, you will see, first of all, that they are all poor nations and, second, that they are places wracked with conflict. These also are all places where, as a practical matter, women have very few rights.

Slide14In the past, we have tended to view the relationship between poverty and conflict more or less as follows: Poverty and high fertility go together. There is no particular reason why this should be true, except insofar as birth control is made too expensive. But the common wisdom for centuries has run something like “the rich get richer and the poor have children”–or, put an equally silly way, that “poverty makes you pregnant.” Too many poor people put pressure on resources. This leads to disease as people huddle together in cramped quarters, can’t keep clean, and so on. This collective misery creates hostility, which leads to conflict, either within the group or between competing groups. Somehow, gender inequality comes out of this. Some argue that people who are living under extreme pressure need more gender inequality to survive.  I see no reason why that should be true.  (It reminds me of David Attenborough saying on BBC that the violence male baboons visit on females is “necessary” for maintaining order–whose order is that?).

Slide15If, on the other hand, we begin with the fact that these nations have low gender equality, which means, first and foremost that the females have no sexual sovereignty, then we can much more easily explain why there is high fertility. Populations with high birth rates have a pyramid shaped age distribution, such that there are always more young men than there are older men. As it turns out, the ratio of older to young men is predictive of the level of hostility and conflict in a population. Basically, the presence of older men has a dampening effect on younger hotheads. Without that calming presence, the young men will find a reason to fight. If you have a stable fertility rate, however, the population will always be balanced–and thus conflict will be less.

To illustrate the potential for change by empowering women, I show the text of an email I got about two years ago from a woman working for equality in the coffee industry within DR Congo:

I am involved in activities against women discrimination and support women economic empowerment since I was very young, in 1999. Thus, we found that women who grow coffee with their husbands do not have access to income generate after harvest. The coffee harvest is an occasion for men to drink alcohol and to marry several women as they have money. And during this time, women are beaten and driven from their homes with their children without anything. Apart from that, during periods of fields maintenance, they are often victims of rape by armed militias, the military but also unpatriotic persons. 
This constitutes a serious violation of the dignity of women and discrimination by their men and society as a whole.

You can see here that the conditions of conflict and the vulnerability of the women feeds the vicious cycle. The women are under constant sexual pressure and have no way to push back.  The fertility thus continues to rise.  The children can’t be cared for. And so on.  If you could empower the women, especially to harvest the coffee and get the income from it, the children could be fed and cared for.  But in order to make any of this happen, the women first have to have sexual sovereignty. This is why women’s economic empowerment can’t be achieved without confronting the violence.  Some people have a hard time seeing that.

Slide18Anyway, you can appreciate, then, why we might develop a different theory of poverty. In this, you start with the gender inequality (the rape, the lack of birth control, the need to engage in prostitution because women can’t earn money).  The gender inequality leads to high fertility.  In turn, this causes conflict.  Resource degradation always results from open conflict and also leads to disease (because resources can’t be marshaled to control it, because people are weaker). And then you have the kind of runaway situation that spirals into poverty.

The  inference is that if you can help these women get rights over their bodies and control over some money, everything will calm down.  Lots of statistics show that if women have money, they will spend it first to care for their children and next to build communities.  And their fertility will drop if they have access to birth control and the right to say no.  So the scenario is a gradual reduction in fertility, conflict, poverty, and disease.

The other Three Good Reasons posts are here.

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Three Good Reasons: An Introduction

Slide1I spoke to the Oxbridge Women’s Network in Hong Kong this week, courtesy of the Woman’s Foundation.  We had a really great conversation afterward and several asked me to post the slides. A similar talk also had a good impact at Oxford North America during the spring, so it seems like a good  idea to recap.

I began the talk by pointing out the authoritative voices behind the call for the world economic community to engage with empowering women.  The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, the International Finance Corporation are joined by major corporates such as ExxonMobil, Walmart, Coca-Cola, and Goldman Sachs.  NGOs small and large (CARE, Plan, Cherie Blair Foundation for Women) are strongly engaged.

Much of the impetus comes from analyzing the global datasets we now have that document conditions for women around the world.  These data show that gender inequality is real, measurable, and has massively negative effects on a wide range of phenomena from national prosperity to human trafficking to the disease burden.  While there are many, many reasons to support women’s economic empowerment, I chose three  broadscale reasons to show how huge the impact would be–with implications for every nation and every citizen, whether male or female, rich or poor.  These three good reasons are: (1) to reduce poverty and hostility, especially in the poorest nations, (2) to counter the real threat to growth posed by declining fertility, and (3)  to improve governance and transparency of the private sector, while reducing risk.

Slide2If you take the nation-level gender data and arrange it in an array from best to worst, as the UNDP and World Economic Forum do, you immediately see a global spectrum that can be broadly characterized.  On the high gender equality end, the nations will be rich and stable.  They will offer universal education and good health care.  The best scores will tend to be Scandinavian countries or developed English-speaking countries (UK, US, Canada, Australia).  They will mostly have stable populations that maintain size at the replacement rate (average fertility for a woman = 2.1); however, there will be an increasing tendency for fertility to be dropping.  On the low gender equality end, you will see countries that are poor and conflict-ridden, that offer poor schooling and health care–and the females will have less access to both medicine and education than the men.  These countries will still have very high fertility rates (around 5 or 6).  There will be clustering of sub-Saharan African countries and poor Muslim majority countries.

Slide3The pattern is strong.  The question is:  toward which direction does the causality run?  Initially, the expectation was that the rich nations could afford to free their women, while the poor nations could not.  However, when you dig into the data, what you find suggests a different theory.  A key example is girls’ education.  National wealth tracks strongly with the level of female education.  [Click here to see graph on Girls Education and National Wealth.] You could say these are the countries who can spend to money to educate girls.  However, female education also correlates inversely with a variety of ancient practices known to have negative economic effects, such as early marriage [see Early Marriage and Girls Education graph here], and also runs in the opposite direction with poor health indicators like adolescent fertility (which in turn goes hand-in-hand with bad stuff like infant and maternal mortality).

People at universities and think tanks have been tinkering with interventions and studies designed to test the interrelationships.  The situation is complex, with effects running across domains.  In this short video clip, I explain how a single intervention on behalf of women can have multiple effects, rippling through societies with the benefits.

Various experiments across a number of years have changed the consensus among those working internationally with the whole phenomenon of women’s empowerment:  the common thinking at this point is that the causation runs counter to what was first thought.  That is, rather than believing that rich nations could afford to set their women free, we now believe that setting women free made the rich nations prosper.

We can see this effect at work as we turn to the “first good reason,” reducing poverty and hostility.  Please continue to the next post.

All the “Three Good Reasons” posts can also be accessed here.

 

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What We Know and What We Don’t: What, Why, How

OK, so it's a goofy picture.  But here I am at the American Club in Hong Kong, carrying THE BOOK.  This is the hard copy of the #DoubleXPetition, signed at Power Shift by everybody, starting with the Vice Chancellor.  I thought maybe these folks would want to sign the original.  They did!

OK, so it’s a goofy picture. But here I am at the American Club in Hong Kong, carrying THE BOOK. This is the hard copy of the #DoubleXPetition, signed at Power Shift by everybody, starting with the Vice Chancellor. I thought maybe these folks would want to sign the original. They did!

In addition to delivering the keynote at the 35th global conference of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, I was invited one evening to address a small group of corporations and foundations who are interested in the whole initiative behind investing in girls and young women.  Big names who have already invested heavily and totally “get it” were there, such as UPS.  Newer programs were represented, such as MetLife’s financial literacy program being delivered by the Girls Scouts in the USA.  (Big potential here.) Also evolving programs like Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, which began as a commercial initiative and has now joined forces with WAGGGS to deliver a global self-esteem program for girls in order to boost their confidence to engage with a wider range of activities.

The American Club is at the top of the Exchange Building in Hong Kong.  As in the stock exchange, the belly of the beast, and so on.

The American Club is at the top of the Exchange Building in Hong Kong. As in the stock exchange, the belly of the beast, and so on.

It seemed a good chance to talk candidly about where we are with the whole initiative of women’s empowerment.  And I only had ten minutes.  But no slides.  I decided to group the message into three’s.  First, the state of knowledge:

We know what we need to achieve:  Inclusion and equality for women across the entire global economy.  This includes everything from retaining girls in education (at least to the secondary level) to getting more women on corporate boards.

We know why we need to achieve these goals:  We can achieve greater prosperity through higher female labor force participation, more startups, and the better business performance that comes from diversity at the top.  We also have the chance to stop abuses on the darkest side of gender inequality:  human trafficking, domestic violence, andearly marriage have their roots in the perceived limited economic value of women–and also have massive economic and social costs to the whole global society.

But we still really don’t know how to do it:  Sorry if I am bursting anybody’s bubble here.  Yes, we have a general idea that equal pay will help the leaky pipeline problem, that greater access to capital would help women entrepreneurs.  Getting there (lawsuits? quotas?) is another challenge.

(Ed Martinez, president of the UPS Foundation added, in his speech that followed, that we also know who must be engaged:  that is, everybody.  Public sector.  Civil Society.  Private Sector.  Churches, synagogues, temples,  and mosques.  Once again, that would be everybody.)

So, I outlined a couple of areas that need more work, again conveniently packaged in three:  translation, innovation, discernment.

Translation.  Here I explained that there are programs like financial literacy that we know are important.  We know women are behind men, therefore vulnerable.  But financial literacy is generally measured, executed, and taught in completely “first world” terms–it’s all about money, interest, and time.  In remote rural areas, cash may be scarce for everyone.  Goods may be bartered.  Debts may be paid in marriage rather than interest. Time is short for women everywhere, but the notion of a future value for money is foreign.  So, a different translation, not just in language, but in material terms, may be necessary.

Innovation. Many times, unexpected practical barriers demand innovative solutions.  The whole problem of sanitary pads for poor school girls was my example. We know providing them will help girls stay in school. It seems like an easy matter to address, but it is not.  Disposable pads are the best option,  but they are hard to deliver to remote areas on the monthly basis required.  People in the West prefer cloth pads (for the poor Africans, not for themselves), but these present hygiene issues due to the lack of clean water and soap.  So we need to invest in new solutions, perhaps like the papyrus-based MakaPads from Uganda and the no-fuel incinerator invented by the same professor.

I mentioned that I have a new project coming along that looks at violence and microlending.  All the loans are made in cash, so the women have to walk home through urban slums carrying way too much money to be safe.  What we need in that case is pre-paid ATM cards, it seems to me.

Discernment.  OK, I admit it, I used “discernment” in order to avoid the word “metrics.”  People think “metrics” are only for academics.  But we all want to know whether the things we do have the impact we hoped.  And there is no way to know that if we don’t design appropriate measures.  Currently, we really do not have good measures, especially for gender effects.

What I said next was somewhat speculative.  It seems to me that an organization like WAGGGs would be well positioned to step in and help fill this gap.  They have boots on the ground everywhere.  They are in touch with all ages of female, but are focused on the ones that have the most potential (girls and young women).  They have credibility.  They have organizational skills.  They have a sense of mission.  They’re all about leadership.  They communicate in two directions.  They know what the conditions are on the ground and understand the goals on a global level.  It seems to me that this organization is in a perfect position to make a major difference.

Jim took this gorgeous photo from the balcony of the American Club at the Exchange Building in Hong Kong.  I never got out there--too many interesting conversations going on inside!

Jim took this gorgeous photo from the balcony of the American Club at the Exchange Building in Hong Kong. I never got out there–too many interesting conversations going on inside!

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Meeting the Girl Scouts and Girl Guides in Hong Kong

I was thrilled to be invited to address the global conference of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, a huge gathering of the world’s largest voluntary organization dedicated to young women and girls, this week in Hong Kong.  There are 10 million Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in 145 countries around the world–and an estimated 245 million alumni of their programs worldwide.

southsudangirlsscouts

South Sudan, having gained independence in 2011, was accepted into the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts this week in Hong Kong. Just shows you the WAGGGS are “on top of it,” even if they are 100 years old.

Girl Scouts and Girl Guides began, in the United States and United Kingdom, respectively, about 100 years ago, a manifestation of the Progressive Era and the women’s club movement.  The Boy Scouts, on which the two girls’ organizations were based, has always been a fundamentally conservative outfit, intentionally focused on shoring up white masculinity.  In contrast, because the Girl Guides and Girl Scouts were concentrated on outdoor activities for girls, an idea that challenged that era’s gender stereotypes, the girls’ movement has been forward-leaning from the start.

You can easily see how contemporary WAGGGS’ focus is today by visiting the website: the focus on girls’ leadership has been there at least since I was a scout, but the campaign to stop violence against women, the Advocacy Toolkit, and the “Global Action Theme” to support the Millennium Development Goals are all very 21st century.

Princess Benedikte of Denmark and CY Leung, chief executive of Hong Kong government, sign a triumvirate of comic dragons who pranced into the conference opening..

Princess Benedikte of Denmark and CY Leung, chief executive of Hong Kong government, sign a triumvirate of comic dragons who pranced into the conference opening.

Certainly that first night in Hong Kong was a statement of how global the movement is today.  The event opened with a jubilant celebration and welcome for the country delegations, including new groups admitted to WAGGGS this year from Myanmar and South Sudan. At dinner, Jim and I were seated with a group of advisors from the WAGGGS global board and we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner conversations with these engaged, intelligent, future-facing women.  

The following morning began the serious business.  The delegates were arrayed in the large ballroom, at tables with country placards (looked like the United Nations) and all the proceedings were simultaneously translated into several languages.

When I arrived to give my talk, the delegates were hearing the results of a large-scale study of today’s preferences among girls around the world, done in support of their ambitious plan to increase membership to 12 million in the next five years.  The challenge goes beyond appealing to girls with the right “image” and activities.  Scouting is delivered by volunteers.  The role of troop leader, however, has become something that really requires capability and commitment–yet many women are so stretched for time that recruiting the right kind of volunteer becomes a big task.  Of course, there are also many obstacles to overcome in translating programs across cultures that range from the US to Oman, with different languages and religions, but also widely various physical and institutional conditions.

My own talk was about women’s economic empowerment (of course) and its importance to world wellbeing, but I also spoke a bit about my own early years as a scout and my rediscovery of the scouting movement when I was researching Fresh Lipstick.  I expressed my admiration for the new programs being implemented by WAGGGS, especially the badges and other programs on financial literacy.  I ended with an appeal to them to help push out the Power Shift group’s petition on behalf of financial inclusion for females:  #DoubleXPetition began trending almost immediately!  (You can sign the petition here.) (Track the WAGGGS buzz on #35woco.)

The video from my talk is below.  It wobbles a bit in the beginning and has some gaps, but is mostly complete (this was Jim recording from the front row and not the most flattering angle!). I have broken it into two parts in order that it could be uploaded to youtube.  I am speaking a bit slowly because of the simultaneous translation going on.  I also made a few remarks about the potential role of WAGGS in the movement to empower women economically, which I will reserve for the next post.  In sum, it has been a great experience to be reunited with this important force for women everywhere.

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