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The Gift of Skill

Few people outside academics realize that a key moment in the history of women’s subordination happened when writing was invented and females were not allowed to learn it.  This exclusion from reading has reverberations beyond what you might first imagine, because this invention occurred at the same time as key shifts in law, religion, and, especially, economics.  And writing itself was first employed not for literature or history or law, but for the purpose of accounting.  So, exclusion from reading was tantamount to exclusion from the emerging system of wealth and money.

Women became disproportionately illiterate, in the conventional sense, a pattern that can still be measured in most of the world. But they also would have become disproportionately financially illiterate, a measurement we are only just now learning to make.  From the time of the Mesopotamian cuneiform, women have been consistently excluded from the “texts” of commerce, whether those were deeds or contracts or, often, wills.  Yes, there have been exceptions, but this has been the overall pattern around the world.


Dr. Marc Ventresca, my colleague at Said, and Professor Zhongming Wang, teaching in the Goldman Sachs program in China.


Grappling with financial literacy–and basic business skills–is not just some superficial private sector add-on, but confronts the very core of the system that disadvantages women globally.  It is a central aspect of the gender gap.

Several governments, agencies, and corporations are tackling this issue, but one at the forefront is Goldman Sachs. Their 10,000 Women program focuses on the underserved women in developing economies, while their 10,000 Small Businesses reaches women and men in the United States and the United Kingdom.  At Oxford, we are engaged in both sides of the GS effort, as the faculty teaches in both the UK and China courses.

So, it made sense to ask the two people at Goldman Sachs who run these programs to speak to the Power Shift group about the challenges, unique to each or common to both, and to address the circumstances of teaching in a same sex versus mixed sex setting.  Noa Meyer and Deepak Jayaraman will cover the whole issue of skills in a session moderated by Jim Hall, the director of Oxford’s Entrepreneurship Center.

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