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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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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