Gender Equality

There are only 3 reasons women don’t make it to the top

It’s true in higher education, it’s true in law firms, it’s true in hospitals (it’s even true in monarchies!): women can get far, but they can’t get all the way to the top.

In Europe, fewer than 10% of universities are run by women. In Fortune 500 companies, about 17% of lawyers are women. Even in a relatively egalitarian country like Norway, a man in healthcare is much more likely than a woman to achieve a position of leadership.

Three things stopping women

There are only three possible explanations for the lower numbers of women at the top level of these organizations.

  1. Women are not capable of doing the work that is required at the top.
  2. Women do not have the desire to be at the top.
  3. There are structural impediments preventing women from reaching the top.

That’s it. Those are the three options.

It may be a little of one, it may be a lot of the other, but those are the alternatives we have to explain the relative absence of women at the top. Whatever explanation is right for your organization, there are good reasons to believe you’ll be better if you work for change. The only way this can happen, is through leadership.

Any organization with fewer women at the top than at the bottom should ask itself which of these explanations apply to it.

A difference in brainpower?

If you want to understand what happens to women’s careers where you work, you might start by asking if the problem is that women simply aren’t capable. It’s a risky question. It’s one I don’t spend much time on. But even in higher education, there are those who do.

Larry Summers, former President of Harvard, suggested once that women are inherently less capable than men of succeeding in math and science. And once was all it took; shortly thereafter, he lost his job!

But a lack of fingerspitzengefühl isn’t the only way to find oneself defending the first option. In the wake of the Summers fiasco, Harvard psychologists Steven Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke debated the claim that there is variation in the cognitive capacities of men and women, and Pinker defended the assertion that we should expect to find group-wise cognitive differences.

Maybe she’s just not that into it

What about desire? At my university, about 40% of the associate professors are women while about 25% of the full professors are. Those who don’t make it to the highest rank aren’t leaving. But do they simply not want to get all the way to the top? Could there be anything to this argument? Is there any reason to believe it might be somewhat true?

Women on their way to top leadership positions often emphasize different approaches to leadership, as the McKinsey Women Matter reports make clear. Women are better at collaboration than men, it is claimed, and collaborative behavior can at times appear indecisive or deferential, as recently argued in Collaboration’s Hidden Tax on Women’s Careers, by  Jill Flynn, Kathryn Heath, and Mary Davis Holt.

This study, along with the related research, does not conclude that women lack the ambition to get to the top. It concludes that women’s approach to the workplace in general and to leadership in particular, can have the superficial appearance of a lack of ambition, when judged against a male corporate culture.

Time to fix it?

The third possible explanation for having few women at the top is that there are structural barriers; in short, that there is discrimination. And, alas, the body of research on hiring and promotion makes it increasingly clear that there are in fact structural impediments for women. Men and women are judged by different criteria, they are expected to perform differently, and they are rewarded differently for the same accomplishments.

The challenges here are many, but the first step is to see the problem. And it’s a problem that won’t fix itself, not even with time.

You owe it to yourself and your organization to ask these questions:

  • Are there disproportionately fewer women at the highest level of our institution?
  • Is that because women are less capable of doing the job?
  • Is it because they don’t want the job?
  • Or is there something else that gets in the way?

The questions here should not be answered with anecdotes. There is extensive research from many domains addressing these questions. Bring that research into your organization. Find out how it applies where you work. Be honest about your answers. And then make things better.

After all, making your organization better for women will make it better for everyone.

My interest in moving universities towards balance encompasses gender equality, the communication of scientific results, promoting research-based education and leadership development more generally. Read more

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63 Comments

  • Elizabeth Halvorsen says:

    I would like to add a fourth reason, I’m not sure women are as aggressive as men. I currently work at a small language school that has two male co-owners and a female academic director (me). We also employ a range of teachers on a freelance basis. One of the co-owners in particular has a strong belief that it is better for business to include women at the top, which probably helped me to achieve my current position. If it hadn’t been for his push, I’m not sure I would have reached this level at nearly the same speed. It isn’t that I don’t want the responsibility and it isn’t that I lack desire, but I don’t think I push as hard or in as obvious a way as my male colleagues. Perhaps this goes under your paragraph on women appearing to lack ambition, but I find that in salary negotiations as well, my husband is much more forceful in his demands than I would feel comfortable with.

    • curt rice says:

      There’s good research showing that no matter how aware parents are of what they’re doing, that boys and girls are raised very differently exactly on the point of showing aggression. So, your suspicion is exactly right. One could think of this as a lack of ambition, but I tend to think of it more as structural. Workplaces are set up such that the behavior that gets you to the top is more stereotypically associated with men than women. So, if we think it’s important to have women at the top, then we have to think about the structures in our workplaces and the mismatches they create. Regarding negotiations, this is a classic area and explains much of the salary discrepancy that can be found *within the same kinds of positions*. The response has to be twofold: Training everyone to work with the system as it is, and working to change the system in ways we think are important.

  • Gillian Ramchand says:

    Good piece, filled with a lot of good sense that I hope people will take to heart. At the bottom of the blog, as I finished reading, an ad came up for firstdate.com with a picture of a pretty, blond, woman about to eat a strawberry. Sigh.

  • In my experience and research, it’s maybe a little of two, and a lot of three, as you conclude. I’m consistently stunned at the amount of discriminatory resistance that I encounter in my male-dominated field of engineering. Consider the following study that was recently done at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on the attrition of women in the engineering profession:

    http://tinyurl.com/825qba2

    I’m leaving in three weeks to go on a special diplomatic mission to Brazil as one of eight U.S. women scientists under the aegis of the State Department, where we will examine the recruitment, retention, and advancement challenges of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. I look forward to the onslaught of literature that I’m likely to receive… Hopefully I’ll be able to bring back some tools and insight that will help my industry, and more importantly, that I’ll be able to get someone to actually implement my suggestions.

    Thank you for this post. It’s important that we discuss this issue more openly.

  • Jo Bakken says:

    I have discussed this topic with my fellow students several times in the past. Generally, I do agree that there are some social and structural impediments that prohibit women from reaching the top levels of the organizational hierarchies. At the same time, I also believe that the debate suffers from “sosiological fallacy”, in which every aspect of human behaviour is explained by socially constructed norms and structures. If considered within a framework of rational choice, explanation two seems to be the most likely explanations, as women may not have the same incentives as men to reach for top positions (lower payoffs from power). First and foremost, as it is still expected that women should take a larger share of responsibility at home, having a top rank position may lead to more stress. Secondly, in a evolutionary perspective, men should have stronger incentives to reach the top of society, as this is the most clear cut signal of proper gens. For women, on the other side, being powerful may unfortunately have the opposite effect, as men may regard these women to be less prospective mothers of their children.

    • curt rice says:

      RIght. But in the case of Associate Professors vs Full Professors, I don’t think there’s much of any (maybe none) difference in terms of stress. Here anyway, in Norway, the job is really the same, and I think that’s largely true in the US, too. And I would add that there really is research now showing that men and women are treated differently e.g. in evaluation settings. So, while there may be more women than men who are satisfied staying at the Associate level, in an overall weighting of various factors, I think the evidence of structural impediments still has to be dealt with. See, for example, my: Peer evaluation is not objective: Academia and Law Firms http://wp.me/p1xS1Q-h3

  • Tom Schulte says:

    Nice article! This piece got me thinking…

    I have a mom (and dad), six sisters (and two brothers), a wife of 25 years, three daughters (and two sons) and a granddaughter who lives with me as I work from home. My wife works for a Fortune 10 company and has had positions of leadership there. I have been in the professional world of sales and marketing since 1986. I think that the answers is probably some of all three options.

    But my real guess is that #2 (lack of interest) is probably the greatest reason why there is not a higher percentage of women in top leadership roles. I think that they mostly do not value the top positions and/or are unwilling to sacrifice other things in their lives to live and operate in those roles.

    I think this is obvious to anyone who actually talks to a large, diverse number of women.

    MOST woman simply don’t care for what comes with the “package” deal of the top roles. But I am sure that a percentage of women DO care and those numbers probably are showing up as the numbers of leadership positions filled by women (give or take a point or two,,,).

    It seems that the strong-willed women who seek these rough-and-tumble top leadership roles want support for their positions and seek to bring others to their point of view. I would think that this is the genesis and the premise for #3 (structural impediments) option. I have learned that a vocal minority can distort reality into letting us believe that #3 is the only reasonable option.

    I am not judging women or men who seek equality in the ranks; I am just wondering if they are projecting their opinions on to the rest of the world who isn’t seeking a remedy that makes their climb easier. In fact, by setting up the premise where the #1 and #2 options are easily ridiculed and the #3 option has a viable chance to impact change, isn’t this just then positioning the #1 and #2 positions as “straw dogs” for the purpose for action (ie. changing rules or laws that force behaviors or practices toward an objective)?

    Why is the presumption that a low percentage of people in any given role seen as wrong, or some kind of problem? I have never seen complaints about the number of women trash collectors being so low because of institutional discrimination…

    To illustrate my point, tell me if you would ever see the equally apt, but contrarian assertions with this premise and set of questions:

    “What I want to know is how come the percentage of stay-at-home dads is so low…”
    “What institutional or sociological bigotry is at play that is keeping men from these domestic roles that offer so many benefits?”
    “Or is it that men are simply not up to the tasks that the roles demand?”
    “Or perhaps is it that they just are not interested or value the things that the roles provide?”
    “Do they not want to sacrifice things in their lives for the benefits that these domestic positions give?”

    ====================

    Also, I wonder if anyone dives deep into studying the seemingly counter-intuitive premise that “‘structural impediments’ are simply evolutionary safeguards that provide the balance society needs to propagate most efficiently and effectively.” I imagine that this study might not happen because their would be no payoff for the #3 position in this.

    =====================

    I say let freedom reign and set up a playground where everyone can be what their effort, skills, intellect, and gifts allows them to be while punishing no one for their successes.

    The happiest people I know understand that life is unfair. They simply do their best with what they have and live within their value-structure. Let the leaders lead and the trash collectors pick up garbage. Let women be women and let men be men, however this shakes out.

    Tom Schulte
    Atlanta, GA

    • curt rice says:

      Thanks very much for that thoughtful response, Tom — feel free to RT if you get the urge :)
      A few thoughts on your thoughts:
      —What I see in several settings is women who get to the next-highest level but not the highest level. I’m in the university world, so the concrete case of this for me is women who advance to the rank of Associate Professor but then not to the rank of Full Professor. Where I live, in Norway, and also in the U.S., there is very little difference (often, none!) between the work of an Associate Professor and the work of a Full Professor. The “package” just isn’t that different; teaching load, research expectations, administrative work – those things are the bulk of the job, independent of rank.
      —I agree that #1 is perhaps a little bit of a straw man, although I tried to suggest that people could actually be found who take it seriously by mentioning Pinker’s presentation. But #2 definitely isn’t intended as such. I think that organizations should create a variety of career paths, and even in universities, I don’t think there’s any problem if some people don’t want to be a Full Professor. There can be many perfectly legitimate reasons for that. But when the desire is there, there are still impediments, which brings me to the next point.
      —I think it’s incredibly important not to draw conclusions on the basis of anecdotes, so I have to offer my friendly disagreement about what is obvious. The issues are super subtle, and there are lots and lots of good studies. For example, there are a lot of studies that simulate promotion situations, so that the profiles of the hypothetical candidates can be held constant, varying only their names (i.e. genders). The results of these studies are almost depressing, in terms of the changes in evaluations that emerge. And we have research from actual situations also, showing that women who are evaluated for promotion in academia have to have many times more scientific publications than a man to be judged as equal to a man by a committee. These are the kinds of things that lead me to conclude that #3 is a significant factor. In this context, I allow myself to recommend “Peer evaluation is not objective: Academia and Law Firms” http://wp.me/p1xS1Q-h3 and “Equality targets as a leadership tool” http://wp.me/p1xS1Q-hZ — I cite several studies there that seem compelling to me.
      —As for your questions, which I think are right on target, here in Norway, we’ve spent months debating exactly your first point. It’s seen as a problem here that when couples can freely divide one year of paid maternity leave, that the fathers tend to take so little. Mandatory measures have been introduced (i.e. of the 12 months, the man must take at least 2 or else those months are lost to the couple) that have changed the situation. You can like or not like that policy, but the point here is that the matter is actually discussed. Indeed, that debate has touched on all the issues you mention.
      —Research on bullying in the workplace shows that workplaces that are predominately one sex (either men or women) have much more bullying than those that are balanced.
      —Your last two paragraphs leave me wondering a little. It seems like “let freedom reign” means that people “can be” what their skills take them to, i.e. that rewards come to those who perform. Yet your last paragraph seems to say that you have to know life is unfair. I think I’m a fairly happy guy, and I think I know life is unfair. But in some situations, I think that can be changed. That’s what motivates me to work on this issue — and I hope you’ll join me!

      • Agreed. I don’t think we’re content to sit back and perpetuate a situation that is consistently unfair to one half of the population. One thing that I typically use to see whether or not an argument passes the ‘sniff’ test is to take a statement and switch out “women” with “blacks” or “hispanics” or another typically marginalized or stereotyped group and see whether or not I find it to be inflammatory in a different context.

        So one of the above statements would become: “It seems that the strong-willed blacks who seek these rough-and-tumble top leadership roles want support for their positions and seek to bring others to their point of view… I am not judging blacks or whites who seek equality in the ranks; I am just wondering if they are projecting their opinions on to the rest of the world who isn’t seeking a remedy that makes their climb easier.” Yikes! Inflammatory? Yes, and so if I’d been the one to write it, I would take that as a cue to examine the basis of that statement and see whether or not I actually meant what I was saying, along with the connotations and subtext that come along with it. Is it ever fair and just to imply that a certain group is imagining a perceived unfairness in the structure when there’s a wealth of evidence to support that this unfairness is not imagined?

        In order to properly unpack these three explanations, we also must be very careful to maintain objectivity about them and see whether or not the conclusions we’re drawing are based upon assumptions that, when unhinged from social contexts, are morally repugnant. I don’t dispute that there are differences between men and women, but I tend to believe (and yes, this is personal and anecdotal… I realize that I ought to do more research on this aspect of gender) that these differences are conditioned rather than structural. The aspect that I find repugnant is that my brain may be less structurally capable of processing information than a man’s brain, and this is precisely why Lawrence Summers isn’t in charge over at Harvard anymore.

        Tom, I wholeheartedly agree with your assertion that reason 2 probably has more to do with why there are fewer women in positions of leadership than Curt has proposed, but I would ask you to consider the idea that women may choose not to take on these roles because these roles have been tailored to the sociological conditioning that men have traditionally received, and that these roles may be in conflict with the sociological conditioning that women have traditionally experienced. It isn’t necessarily that women are inherently incapable of leading a group in a business environment, but rather that by the natures that they have formed within the context of our society, they encounter so much friction against their values and goals that their desire to hold those positions wanes. And so, we lose our most balanced, well-rounded women leaders somewhere along the way because of an inflexible corporate structure that has centered itself around the values that are held paramount in the male social construct. (So, reason 2 turns into reason 3, a little bit. The situation is complex and nuanced, so a blurred line is unsurprising.) This idea is pointed to in the UWM study I mentioned in my comment above… I think that an inability for ambitious women to progress from the second-in-command level to the command level is where the third reason in its purest form most often comes into play.

        I would love to hear feedback on this idea.

        • Karen Sund says:

          Thanks for good discussion and for going beyond the politically correct rhetoric!
          I am afraid I agree with the views on reason 2 being important, and for many reasons, some of which are mentioned already. Having worked internationally and in management (own company + several boards), I meet many women who have taken the choice of going for the top, and many more who have chosen not to, even some who have chosen to stay at home despite high qualifications both academically and as leaders. As a Norwegian, it is interesting to see the difference of the perception we (and other countries) seem to have of this egalitarian society and the actual statistics. It comes down to a few human elements that I would like to add to the discussion:
          Respect: There is still a way to go in some environments for full professional respect for women – many are still seen as first a pretty young thing in a skirt, then some surprising comments emerge later: You know, I think she actually had a good point! That is only half the story though – for top executives to have good support at home and less-working spouse helps teremendously. But if this is a man, there is a lack of respect at times too. Many women find this softer man less sexy or insightful (a little discussed aspect), and men have issues of insecurity of own role as well as future carreer at such choices, making it easier for the woman to not “immasculate” the man, stay a step behind and take the main responsibility at home (at times because the man is deemed less qualified – sound familiar?). With most men having wifes a comfortable step behind, some of these are bound to use them as a source of understanding women in general, making it more difficult to see a woman taking over their own high-powered job. So, structural challenges both at home (more) and at work (less).
          Some of the women in this egalitarian country are strong minded and push hard on a 50/50 split of work at home and frequently give the men a hard time – this has an impact on how much the man can stomach tough discussions in the work place (his banter free zone), so easier to work with men (more conflict averse). This makes them more careful, too, which again could be bad for the businesses (or universities) they are running.
          In general, I am against quoting women onto boards, but in our country it has had a couple of good effects: There are no more statements along the lines of “there are just not enough qualified women” (your point 1) – trying them out has clearly been a positive experience! Perhaps next step should be foreigners – some strong preconceptions there, too…,
          I think boards have improved – there is more discussion on who should sit there (not only pre-retirement people who “deserve” it), and there is more discussions from more angles in the meetings themselves. Now that industry is leading the way on this, perhaps politicians, government, universities can learn from it ;-)
          An observation on the Norwegian society is that now we have the money and the freedom to choose, many prefer traditional models (we are the most traditionally split workforce in the OECD). Fair enough – but then perhaps we should stop assuming that we can extrapolate the 1970s into an egalitarian nirvana. Back then we were poor, and all hands were needed. When I grew up, all the girls wanted an education and an interesting job – staying at home was not even mentioned – now the options are wider and some are quite happy that they “don’t have to work, and my husband has a very important job”. The few that choose top management are often lonlier than men in the same positions and than the women who have more time to themselves – is this another structural challenge?

          • Bror says:

            Karen,
            You make some great points as well. Interesting to hear the bit about the boards (which is quite a different topic than “senior mgmt” or “full professors”, since boards almost by definition need diversity in terms of age and other factors potentially as gender and background to fulfill their main duties, which are shared across the board – this cannot be said about individuals in mgmt or even less so, full professors, who do not have shared responsibilities in e.g. risk management like boards do).
            I had heard that one problem with the Norway quotas was that for big companies, it tends to be that the women who are good enough end up on many, in some cases intractably many, boards. But your message seems to dispute that indirectly at least. Would be curious to know more.
            Similar to the point about boards, my experience in team projects as always been that diversity is good, and I would always want women and diversity among background and age in a team. But for individual spots, in the academic community for example, where there is minimal cross-“variable” value or negative value in terms of output, this discussion seems moot. If however, you could make a strong argument that diverse academic communities tend to out-product more homogeneous groups at other schools, you would have a strong argument as to why universities should (based on expected output) try to bake in rules or incentives that drive diversity.
            Right now, it sounds like whining more than robust arguments.

          • Desire says:

            Karen, what is your view on the research from University of Michigan saying that “forced diversity” on Boards has significantly damaged the competitiveness and shareholder value of the average Norwegian company?
            Board members are typically:
            – 35-70 years old
            – University graduates, between the years 1970-2000
            – 10-40 years work experience
            – Norwegian women only started taking university degrees (particularly in traditionally male fields like engineering, physics, maths, business, economics, finance, and more) in significant numbers really in the 90s or 80s at best.
            – Plenty of data and anecdotal evidence (see Sandberg’s book) suggests women DON’T WANT the stress and work hours required to crack that “top 1%” required to gain board seats at global companies – really there are perhaps only 2-3-400 board seats at global companies in Norway?
            – You probably could put a long spreadsheet together of all the Norwegians that are “tänkbara” kandidater for board seats at companies like DnB, Yara, Aker, Orkla, Statoil, etc: how many of them would be women? 5%? 15%? 25%? If you required a certain education, work experience, etc, you can’t expect that figure to be 40%
            – And if it ISN’T (yet) 40% (it will be in 10-20 years when all the female business graduates, with the help of affirmative action, take their place), why would you have a low that discriminates against a group (men) that represents perhaps 80% or more of the total candidate list for board members?
            – Is not my son therefore unfairly discriminated against under Norwegian legislation? Is not Löfven in Sweden therefore a populist monster for proposing legislation, that to me, is tantamount to the 2/3 vote blacks had in Curt Rice’s America? Or the fact that only 100 years ago you needed to own land just to vote in scandinavia (being male wasn’t enough)?
            How can anyone think it is reasonable to REQUIRE 40% of board seats to be held by females? But NOT require any seats to be held by Turks, Pakistanis, old, young, left-handed, right-handed, foreign-born, etc?
            – In the event Curt Rice thinks that over 60% of board seats held by men is “too much”, does he also think that the American Senate has “too many” Jews? Seeing that 10% of American senators are Jewish, while only 2% of Americans are Jewish, Jews have a 500% higher likelihood of becoming Senator than non-Jews. Is that unfair Curt Rice? Should America have a law requiring “gentiles” to be 98 out of 100 senators?
            – How about in Sweden? Shouldn’t the Swedish Academy have more than 6 out of 18 females? Or more than 0 foreign born? Or more than 0 non-white? It is they that choose Nobel prize winners, and therefore have remarkable impact on global culture and politics.

    • Bror says:

      Tom,

      Brilliant!

      /Bror

    • EMC says:

      I can speak for the women you know, but I can speak for myself and other women I know. Many of us change priorities/what we “want” once we realice they won’t reward us the same way. If you know you won’t get promoted, you stop trying. And since you are going to earn less and not be promoted, why put the effort in trying to get them? So “not wanting” is enouraged by less rewards and more obstacles. On the other hand, men get promoted on potential, if they find it too hard sometimes they get extra help (like being mentoring by the woman who was passed in that promotion) and get offered higher wages.

      So, 3 creates conditions for 2 or make things look as if it was 2 from the begining, wich is simply not true. Take it as you want, but that’s my experience and many friends experience while my male relatives asume that “I won’t want the resposability and the presure anyway”. So, try to ask the woman in your family “if your hundsband do half of the house work would you?” “if they offer you a promotion with a rise, would you want it?”. And so on. Remove the obstacles and add the help that males usually have and then see the choices. Probably won’t be the same that they do now.

  • Ploum says:

    Let’s take out the sexual aspect. What do you observe: most people who are at the top are ambitious and like to show their muscles in a very simian way.

    When you observe most traditional companies and structures, you are will be surprised to discover how stupid or unskilled some of top people are. But, they were able to show they muscles all the way to the top.

    In Western Europe, this even goes as far as setting your salary: in you are “just good enough” for a job, you will receive a salary which is only based on your negotiation skills. If you are very good at your job, doing extra work for hour, bringing lot of stuffs to the company, you will not earn one cent more. You might be less paid (and less considered) than someone who is barely competent but can show muscles and is a good negotiator.

    What does it teach us?

    From our genes and millions of year of evolution, males have learned to show their muscles and to take into their team the young with the biggest muscles. Women are less enclined to play that role.

    So, men with big muscles and no brain take people like them. That’s all. If you observe most women who have top position in the business world, they just act like that: aggressive, showing muscles.

    The main problem is not that women are “prevented” to reach the top. It’s that reaching the top is nowhere related to intelligence nor skills. It’s a pure animal, stupid game. A lot of very bright men are also prevented to reach the top because of that. In fact, most are. Because it’s very very rare to find someone intelligent *and* who likes rolling biceps for the sake of it.

    • curt rice says:

      Thanks for those thoughts. If it’s try that getting to the top takes a set of skills that are more present in group A than group B, I would take that as a structural impediment for those in group B to get to the top. So, from that perspective, I think we’re on the same page.

      • Bror says:

        Good point. Question is what can be done about it.

      • Desire says:

        Curt,
        You can’t be serious? Is your point that business is unfair because those that fight hardest win? So you must think that all sports are unfair, since less aggressive participants tend to not win? You seem to be able to literally twist anything to your favor. Ploum is exactly right – success in business, if you for whatever reason to define that as making lots of money and having power, comes at the cost of lacking empathy, not being a team player, clawing your way to the top. Clearly, testosterone pays off here, and estrogen less so.
        Is it optimal? Probably not. But unless your idea is Marxism, what can be done? Feminine men are at least as penalized as women on average, and far more than a tester one filled woman. In fact, a masculine woman is really set for success, as she as the right biological attributes AND modern politically correct society in her favor (at least in NW Europe).
        It’s a jungle out there!

        • Curt Rice says:

          Thanks for your thoughts, Desire. It isn’t my impression that those who fight the hardest win. Winning seems to follow from lots of factors, such as networking, luck, skill (I hope!), and also determination, as you note. Sports are a poor example to bring up here, because they build on objective biological differences, at least if you’re concerned that it is unfair to have separate men’s and women’s teams. That, of course, is totally unproblematic. But think about why. It’s because there are structural barriers that make it impossible for women and men to compete equally (in most sports), and those structural barriers are based on biology in a way that can’t be changed. So, the fair thing under those circumstances is to create separate arenas for competition. In research organizations, there will be greater success for the projects (and therefore for society) if there is gender balance in the groups. So rewarding individualistic behavior of the type you mention is detrimental to the broader agenda.
          We do agree that the present system is not optimal, and we also agree that Marxism is not the solution to pursue. I think there are many steps that can be taken, some of them about individuals (of the type Sheryl Sandberg advocates in her book) and others about the system (of the kind I advocate in various postings on this blog and elsewhere). I’d be curious to have the references to the research you mention on penalization of feminine men and “testosterone filled” women. Send those along if you get a chance.

          • Desire says:

            Ojojoj, you sound old fashioned! Objective biological differences? Like what??!
            The latest “science” shows that there is NO difference, except the patronising feministic view that men masturbate more (ahem): http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brainstorm/200807/why-gender-doesnt-matter
            As you speak Norwegian, you can probably read the latest Swedish view (you can’t go a day in Sweden without being bombarded with feminist propaganda):
            http://www.dn.se/nyheter/vetenskap/man-och-kvinnor-ar-lika-som-bar/
            Regarding feminine men, you should just review your own and other standard research, as well as basic logic. IF biology is irrelevant, and if manly men unfairly dominate (white men of course, because Nordic feminists find it uncomfortable to start discussing how much significantly more foreign born men have it than white women), then it must be that high estrogen low testosterone men lose in a world transitioning from patriarchy to matriarchy. They don’t fit in either one.
            Are borat’s brother and female Cambridge professors just naive? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiSWqwWbFEg#t=585
            The Sheryl Sandberg stuff is useful for perhaps 1% of women. I’ve not understood why it’s relevant for average women and men, that don’t have MBAs or PhDs, and have worked at McKinsey or Goldman Sachs.
            What is your view on Warren Farrell? That the 25 most dangerous professions in the world are “male”? That single women without children earn more than their male equivalents? That for people under 40 there is no pay gap? That women receive the lion’s share of welfare benefits, parental leave, study support (over 60% of uni students are female! possibly due to anti male feminist teachers over the last generation), that women live longer and therefore get perhaps twice as many years with pension and retirement and enjoyment of their grand kids than men? That the life length gap was a mere year 100 years ago, suggesting economic gains have not trickled down to lower class men? For me it is clear that TODAY you acre much better off being born a female (a bummer for my newborn son).
            I am impressed by your replies and promptness, but I have noted you pick and choose which things to reply to, and are good at attacking the weakest parts of comments, choosing to ignore things that don’t fit your view (which face it, you are far too committed to at this point in your career to back off from. Look how much muck Warren Farrell got after he “switched sides”, even though he is absolutely still a feminist, just of a different sort)

          • Curt Rice says:

            By “objective biological differences” I was referring to well-established facts like averages about height, weight, strength, etc. These are among the reasons that athletic competitions are usually sexually segregated, and my comment simply noted that segregating these competitions is not sexist, but instead based on objective criteria. So, you are mistaken that there are no objective biological differences between men and women.

            Your point about domination does not make sense to me. I’m not talking about biological effects, but rather stereotypes and implicit bias and other social factors.

          • Desire says:

            Perhaps it’s an area you should do some research on. I’m not an academic. But tell if I’m wrong, I thought there were plenty of studies looking at height, hair, fitness, facial symmetry, etc that showed correlation with salary and performance in business. And certainly some of these things are correlated with testosterone levels. Therefore….
            http://www.king5.com/health/get-fit/Dr-Cooper-talks-testosterone-219940221.html

            I mean finger length is correlated with SAT results, so I don’t think the hypothesis that masculine women do better than feminine women (or men) is necessarily absurd.

            On another topic, one might guess you’re a supporter of quotas in Norway for corporate boards, them being catastrophic for company value. Take Wilhelmsen the shipping company, which used to have six board members, two women. What did they do? Create a seventh seat? Trade a man for a woman? Nope, they just dropped a seat to five, in order to get to 40% without raising costs. How can that be a good thing?

            http://www.bus.umich.edu/newsroom/articledisplay.asp?news_id=18682

          • Curt Rice says:

            It’s hard to imagine that saving the money associated with one board seat is a big motivator for Wilhelmsen, given the fairly robust economic health of the organization. There is no research supporting the claim that quotas have been catastrophic for company health. On the contrary.

          • Desire says:

            Why don’t you read the UMich study and then comment? 5% market cap destruction is fair significant. Frankly I find your claim that essentially “board seats don’t matter” to be rather remarkable. I realise your website is pushing your views, and it is your website (placing adds on CNN), but you can’t just ignore research that you don’t happen to like. What exactly was wrong about the UMich research (done by a female academic)?

          • Curt Rice says:

            We obviously have different understandings of the UMich study, Desire. The author you refer to, Amy Dittmar, in interviews subsequent to the appearance of that article, has repeatedly made it clear that there is no causal relationship between gender and value. One example is at: http://www.bus.umich.edu/newsroom/articledisplay.asp?news_id=18682, where the journalist writes, “Dittmar and Ahern are quick to point out, however, that a loss in firm value was not caused by the gender of the new board members, but rather by their young age and lack of high-level work experience. In fact, gender effect is not significant once you account for these other experience-related differences, they say.”

        • Karen Sund says:

          Desire,
          Thanks for commenting on my input from 2 years ago. See I need to clarify a few points, and can now add a few more years to my experience with the topic.

          1) I am for equal rights and diversity – not promoting women for the sake of it. Men are more discriminated than women these days, and young men feel they need to make more money in the future because their girlfriends are already indicating a life of 3 children and cupcakes. So, a 40% quota of each gender may be seen as pushing women, but it can also be used on men, if there suddenly is too many women and men feel left out. (On a similar note, I also think men will benefit from a law allowing them some time alone with their children in the first year – they have to fight hard with many wifes here!)

          2) The impact of the law in Norway and the discussions that are now in Sweden and other countrys is good. It brings attention to boards and their responsibilities. The importance of diversity (of which gender is probably the least relevant!) As I sometimes tell men who want to “explain” to me why I have board positions: Yes, for some large companies in Norway this law counld have a part in their selection, but for the international boards I have been on, it is purely skills-based, darling! One of these were in Sweden, by the way. Having to add new people brings fresh thinking on who it should be and which qualifications are needed. An important part of board work is asking good questions – preferably from a different angle than the one prevalent in the organisation: Training, education, background and experience – as well as courage – are all more important than gender to me. Remember, there were many old-style boards that were afraid of changing their composition at all, and resisted any change, to remain the same cosy, agreeing club of older men with pleasant dinners after the (shorter) meetings. Now there is much more focus on accountabiltiy and quality of each member and what they add to the companies’ governance and results. There are also more foreigners and younger men on boards here now than earlier, as people have seen that new thinking and fresh brains work! And that it wasn’t as scary as they have feared.

          3) Your son – and other men – have the same right to have ambitions for board positions, of course. But be prepared, it is not all glory and fame – there are tough decisions and risks, too. Some have mentioned that not all women want this. No, and not all men, either!

          4) You estimate that if we were to make a list for board candidates for the largest companies, it would be 80% men on it. I am less certain. There are many of the traditional (male) “experienced industry leaders and board members” today that may not meet todays expectations of fresh thinking, large international networks, strong focus on governance and able to questions important decisions on behalf of shareholders with integrity and professionalism. That will, of course, depend on the list maker and criteria for inclusion. Actually, I see that when it comes to understanding and dealing with a complex future, women could be at least as comfortable as men (especially some that are very scientific and more “binary” – wanting simple and rational answers and extrapolate the past) – and that the “cockieness” of some engineers that want to build something that may already be out of date or too risky, will have more support from a retired engineer on his board than by a younger person from another industry (regardless of gender).

          In these complex but interesting times boards need to be better than before and having a better selection process building on the needs for the particular company and its shareholders is even more important than earlier. Maximum consensus with management (more the case earlier with all men boards) is not the most important here!

          • Desire says:

            Dear Karen,
            I appreciate your frank, friendly and optimistic reply! I hope you are right on most points. Here are some of my reactions:
            1. Your points in #1 are spot on, although probably less so in Scandinavia, where women tend to “pay for themselves” and be more “forward” when dating. In Scandi the entire context for relationships is quite distinct – marriage is less common, children come first, and people move in together very quickly. Of course the laws in Sweden for example are still quite “anti-men” when it comes to fatherly right, child support, etc. But your quite striking point that there might come a time very soon where women are pushing 60% of seats is very good – the result of crazy, left-wing politics, but nonetheless very much a potential reality!

            2. Again, completely agree. Your point about international boards makes sense- global companies care about one thing, and that is making money! Diversity on boards, in principle, I agree is a good thing, but not forced diversity (see the UMichigan report from Dittmar from 2010), since it forces firms to make sub-optimal choices.

            All that said, I’m not sure Boards should primarily “challenge” – there is only so much time for boards, and I’ve seen many companies in Sweden with HUGE boards, where HR execs, Comms, Legal, IT, etc sit on the board, and have very little add (in some cases) when it comes to optimising long-term strategy and profit maximisation. Generally, I agree with you, that most companies (especially in Sweden!) are Old Boys networks at the board level, but this is mostly a function of how remarkably conservative, and old-money Sweden is – Handels was men only a long while, and really until only the last decade or two have the “old ways” strated to change.

            Norway is probably a different case, since Old Money doesn’t dominate as much. It’s old shipping families, and descendents of high class Danes and Swedes. But Norway is failing this generation of young men.

            3&4. Completely agree. Question is if it is fair for him to be a part of a group (white men) that forms perhaps 70, 80, 90% of able and willing people to take these seats, but is only able to theoretically get 40-50-60% of the seats. Jews have been remarkably good at taking spots at Harvard (30%), seats in the American Senate (13%), etc, but nobody is talking about “kvotering” for Gentiles…

            And while I agree being a board isn’t a cake walk, there is a reality in Sweden that certain people sit on many boards (see Annika Falkengren, Antonia Axson Johnsson, Svanberg, Martin-Löf, Ekholm, Wallenberg), raking in massive compensation, and adding presumably quite limited value. This is not a gender issue – is a class, and power issue. Heck, Sweden even still has A and B share types!

            Conclusion: We are on the same page, for the most part. I like your cocky engineer point – that is what got Ericsson (and eventually Nokia) in trouble.

            I watched the latest Cheryl Sandberg “We leaned in – now what?” Ted talk, and was blown away by how many times she blatantly LIED during that talk. But she can get away with it, I guess, because she’s a successful woman at a cool company. I don’t know. In any case, as a 36 year old parent, my partner and I are excited to see how things continue to develop, and hope we and our children can make an impact in Sweden and potentially other countries!

            Thanks

    • thats funny but probably true says:

      It’s not just the show of muscle that is questionable, but the manner in which the unethical side with each other to put the barriers in place…that part is the subtle discriminatory elephant in the room and its palpable to the point of creating tension, low morale, and a general sense of degradation, so if we have to name the problem why can we just name it as repressively tactical.

  • justonemorething says:

    Good discussion. I do think that academics tend to discount the very real role of biology in these matters. Women are hard-wired to put children and family first by nature; even so-called liberated women must admit this is true; though sometimes they deny it, they are only fooling themselves, not nature. That basic instinct is always there under the surface.

    • curt rice says:

      Thanks. I wonder if you think of your point as falling more into the “can’t do it” or “don’t want to do it” category.

      • This very important point falls into neither category. Women may have the innate leadership ability (can), and desire to be leaders (want), but the very fact that the majority of women spend many years nurturing their families as per their biological manifesto has two distinct effects: a) in a male constructed system this is incorrectly viewed as the nurturing women not being “serious” about their careers and b) During the “heavy lifting” period of childcare women may in fact have somewhat less time to devote to pursuing career dominance (especially the part that involves regularly going out to bars with colleagues after work and bonding over alcohol and etc.) but after this period of life is done, you have older women competing in a male-constructed, male-oriented system heavily stocked with younger and aggressive males. These males are frequently viewed as more talented than the older women who are their peers, for a variety of reasons, but in general simply because they are younger and at the same career point as the older women…wunderkinds right? They MUST be more talented and capable and want it more! Not.

        So, I don’t think this condition fits neatly into either category. Maybe you need to add a fourth one to your three.

  • Curt – Based on my personal Fortune 100 company experience and research done with Anne Pershel, I concur with points 2 and 3. However, point one is problematic!

    Systems tend to, and in fact are designed to, maintain the status quo. For the most part, women did not create the status quo in business. The fabric of leadership has been woven almost entirely of traits typically associated with masculine archetypes, such as being dominant, competitive, and task-oriented. Leadership must be redefined so “power over” is no longer the default operating mode. To do this, women must gain power in a system at odds with the way they are in order to change that system – and be perceived as having the skills necessary to sit in the top seats.

    • curt rice says:

      Thanks so much for that comment. I actually meant option 1 as more or less a “straw man.” My idea was simply to try to think of what the logical possibilities might be, and the only options, as far as I can see, are (i) lack of capacity, (ii) lack of desire, or (iii) barriers. I think barriers are a much bigger problem than most men are willing to admit, and I think many of them have emerged for exactly the reasons you mention. And I think your last sentence is especially important: part of the challenge today is to facilitate success in the system as it is — because that’s how it is, and change is slow — and then as a result of that, to try to change things more quickly.

      • I’m moving more and more into the space that leadership as it is practiced, defined and rewarded needs to change. On a rant one day, I shared some thoughts “Square Pegs, Sacred Cows and Starting Over with Leadership” on Gary Hamel’s Management Innovation eXchange! http://www.managementexchange.com/hack/enough-already-square-pegs

        • Bror says:

          You are spot on, ma’am. Curt’s apparent premise that through outside interference (legislation?), society can retrofit the current system to be “fairer” is I think, some people like Tom here would argue, misguided.
          However, your point that the entire rules of the game (“archetypes”) would have to be almost re-programmed to get the apparent desired outcome (completely proportional representation across gender, but also of course ethnic groups, religions, etc), is probably the most logical argument I’ve seen here.
          Alas… the implementation of said reprogramming is not likely something that can be forced as long as we live in capitalistic societies. A more gradual approach, where the old assumptions are slowly whittled away, is the more likely path.
          In a world where women make up 60 or 70% of students at top schools,l graduate at a higher rate, live longer, healthier lives, it is no wonder that the gaps are decreasing across many metrics, salary, etc.
          In fact, from a male’s point of view, you could easily make a case that many things are extremely unfair toward men – e.g. why should women get in expectation a 40% longer period of life living comfortably in retirement (taking a 65 as retirement age)?

          • Curt Rice says:

            That one was hard to follow, Bror. It seems like you are saying that legislation can’t give a fair result in the first paragraph, but in the second paragraph it seems like you say that everything would have to be re-programmed if we want a fair result. What am I missing?

            Increased flexibility, mentoring, training … those are the kinds of measures that work to redress systems that treat men and women differently. If we want to call that “legislation” (or “retrofitting”), then there’s actually pretty good evidence that they work, at least by my reading of the literature.

          • Bror says:

            You can’t force it with government intrusion.

            You can remove unfair rules (“back of the bus” for example), and private society can do what it wants (e.g. scholarships for minorities or women), but forcing companies to discriminate against some groups (say white men) via legislation is counter-productive in the long run.

            At its core it’s socialism.

          • Curt Rice says:

            Oh, Bror. You’re not being serious here, are you? You’re Swedish, right? Dere har troll i Sverige også, ikke sant :)

          • Desire says:

            Curt, I think Bror’s point wasn¨t as trollish as you make it seem. How is not socialistic to generate a desired outcome via legislation? Of course this is tradition in Sweden, but his/her point is true.

            Stefan Löfven calls Norway’s kvotering a “success” because it realized the 40% goal (isn’t that a foregone conclusion???), but he’s being completely insincere when he ignroes the myriad evidence that this legislation has damaged Norwegian businesses (see UMichigan Dittmar study from 2010, since you seem to need and love academic evidence!)

          • Curt Rice says:

            I guess I don’t understand why “generating a desired outcome via legislation” = “socialistic.” Isn’t the whole point of legislation to generate a desired outcome? Are speed limits socialistic? The idea that legislation can’t be used to generate a desired outcome seems kind of strange to me. But maybe I’m missing your point.

            It’s not a foregone conclusion that boards of publicly traded companies in Norway would get 40% women on their boards, even though that is the law. It took some work — and quite a few years — to get there. That UMichigan study has been critiqued lots of places. Its biggest weakness is that it failed to tease apart the effects of the economic crisis that the world experienced during the time of its study. But you are quite right that I do need and love research! There’s lots of good research on the positive effects of the quota system on companies. Myriad evidence that it’s been harmful does not exist, at least not as far as I have been able to see.

  • Gender is on relationship between women and men on the roles and responsibilities not competition.
    Need: Gender Mainstreaming Training of Trainers is the solution for all levels and places.

  • Roeland says:

    A Henry Ford and an Edison define 150 years of industrial direction. There is no Willa Gates and Stephania Jobs, although it is quite strange that male nerds made such an impact within 25 years of time.
    Women on the top in the next 25 years have a chance that from yet less important fields they start and grow into something important. I was amazed to see the impact of Marta Payne’s blog. This is the way the new generation of girls will go to the top in the next 25 years because they know they are the one’s that makes the difference.

  • Hugh Allen says:

    I don’t know much about the corporate world but I do know something about orchestras. Back in the day when a musician auditioned on stage, the acceptance rate for women was about 15-20%. Then they started having the applicants play from behind a screen. You can guess the result. 50% (or close) of the accepted candidates were women. So that gives the lie to the idea that drive and performance are differentiated by gender. At least if you play a musical instrument.

  • Nick67 says:

    Re: 3 reasons and Larry Summers.
    I wish that anyone quoting Larry Summers on this topic would have a good grasp of the same subject as Summers–economics and statistics — and actually link to his speech transcript. Until you do, you are liable to make egregious errors about the content of that speech. Summers never said that there are innate differences between men and women–rather that it is an interesting hypothesis to investigate. Take 1 million men, and take 1 million women where both groups have the exact same average intelligence — but the standard deviation between the groups is only very slightly different. The top 10 smartest (and the top 10 dumbest as well) are going to comes much more frequently from the group with the larger standard deviation. Has anybody ever had the gumption and daring to SEE if there is any difference in the standard deviation of intelligence in the sexes? Will anyone now DARE to propose, fund or conduct such research with Dr. Summers having been subject to such a witch-hunt? It is straight-up statistical realities that Summers was talking about–but nobody has done the research

    Another statistical reality. Take two groups of people who have the same average proclivities and standard deviations for various activities (say, Canadians and Americans in sports) One group has more options about which activities they wish to pursue to a higher level than others (Americans can realistically pursue baseball, football, basketball, tennis, golf, track and swimming to very high levels of achievement if they have the talent without having to undertake drastic risks and changes to their lifestyle or place of residence. Most Canadians can only realistically pursue hockey without large measures of uncertainty) Statistically, the group with fewer choices will over-represent in the top (and in the bottom, as well) few who are the very best. And that can definitely be seen. With men and women, when the choices are presented, stay-at-home dad is not pursued by many, while stay-at-home mother is. Women, then, are the group presented with more choices. Summers wondered if that was the reason why, when the time came to pick the best ‘person’ for the job, that a man was disproportionately chosen compared to birth ratios. Interesting theory. Also never tested.

    Economists also understand that irrational discrimination leaves statistical footprints. Returning to sports for the analogy. Blacks were completely excluded from baseball. When that idiocy came to an end, you could expect to see two things. One, those black players who broke into MLB would, on average, be much better than the average of all players. Look at black players from Jackie Robinson’s debut through the mid 70’s. They’ll skew much more towards elite than mediocre. Two, those organizations that do not discriminate will out-compete irrationally discriminating ones because they will, on average, have a better talent pool. And that happened, too. The NFL irrationally discriminated against black quarterback. It left the same kind of footprints. Summers posited that it should be possible to see these types of footprints in other organizations. If discrimination is at the root of why women don’t get to the top, then those women who do should be absolute barnburners, and their organizations should outperform. Has anyone looked statistically to see if it’s valid? No — and Carly Fiorina & HP are a sample of ONE and may or may not be representative.

    You should really go back to Summers speech and read it through HIS eyes. You’ll see that there may be more reasons than three!

    • E. Olson says:

      I’ve been looking through the comments and Nick67 has the first that seems to be well informed. There is a lot of research that finds that the distribution of men on almost all physical and mental elements is wider than women. Thus men will tend to be over-represented on the low and high ends of the distribution tails on intelligence, mental illnesses, physical stature, sense of taste, smell, etc. relative to women. This means at the elite levels of academia, cooking, wine tasting, etc. the best men will tend to be better than the best women and ‘statistically’ over-represented. Men are also over-represented in prisons, mental hospitals, sewage treatment plant (i.e. stinky) jobs, etc., but feminists never complain about equaling men there. I also wonder about the validity of studies that supposedly show women are discriminated against with regards to pay, promotions, etc. If the results are correct, then you would expect that at least some firms/organizations would decide to take advantage of the situation by hiring women exclusively, as they would save on labor costs, have higher performing workers, and thus earn much higher profits and/or be much more successful on non-financial measures (i.e. more research publications in an all-women academic department). The fact that no one does this suggests that the studies do not accurately reflect reality.

      • Curt Rice says:

        So, your idea is that if feminists were sincere, they would be working to raise the number of women in prisons and mental hospitals? Failure to do so shows that research about women getting low pay is inaccurate?

        • Nick67 says:

          @Curt Rice.
          Your reply does not seem to be open-minded
          E. Olson was elaborating upon the statistical reality I noted: “The top 10 [upper] (and the top 10 [lower] as well) are going to comes much more frequently from the group with the larger standard deviation.” That is Statistics 101.
          E. Olsen suggest that “There is a lot of research that finds that the distribution of men on almost all physical and mental elements is wider than women.” If that research is correct, then the tails of the normal distribution curve will contain comparatively more men than women, even when the mean of the curve is identical for both groups. On example is risk-averseness. Comparatively, very few women throw themselves out of perfectly serviceable aircraft. Skydiving is dominated by men. Physically, there is no reason for that domination. I don’t know that there are valid financial reasons either. Couples could take up skydiving, but they generally do not. Let us say for the sake of argument that skydiving is a good proxy for risk-averseness and that the mean of the curve is the same for both sexes, only the distribution results in the skewing at the tails. How will that play out in other areas where attitudes to risk are significant? Risk that is taken and pays of leads to outsize rewards. Risk that is taken and leads to failure leads to outsize penalties. Do we see skewed results in entrepreneurship, gambling, crime and homelessness?

          Negative results aren’t anything to emulate. No one needs to “… be working to raise the number of women in prisons and mental hospitals.” But it does suggest that the distributions, if not the means, of some very important curves do have some correlation to gender.

          • Curt Rice says:

            I don’t really follow where you’re going with this. Sorry to be so thick. I get the distribution point. I’m even willing to stipulate the risk taking point. But your original comment (if I recall without re-reading) was that you were annoyed that feminists don’t argue that one should pursue gender equality in prison populations. E. Olson’s comment, if I got it, which I may not have, was about the footprint. And I get how that works in sports, but I don’t think it’s the same elsewhere, especially in situations in which the source is implicit rather than explicit bias. Explicit bias, it seems to me, potentially holds back excellence. Implicit bias does, too, of course, but also average-ness. Why the excellent ones should be those who manage to break through is unclear to me. The skills for breaking the glass ceiling may be different than the skills for the position. E.g. persistence of certain kinds might lead to a higher ranking position even for those whose skills for that position do not stand out from the others (e.g. men) already in that position.

        • E. Olson says:

          Feminists argue that women should be equally represented in top positions as men, and the fact that this is not true means they are being discriminated against. Since men tend to have wider distributions than women on a wide variety of mental and physical characteristics, however, it is very likely that a disproportionate share of high performing people are men, which explains why they have a disproportionate share of top positions. The wider distribution also means a disproportionate share of men are at the bottom of society. Feminists only focus on the supposed discrimination at the top, but they never show any concern about their under-representation at the bottom, perhaps because it would highlight the fact that gender differences in the distribution of abilities is a more likely explanation than systematic discrimination.

      • Curt Rice says:

        One of the problems with Nick’s comments, by the way, is that the discrimination against women is of a fundamentally different nature than the discrimination against blacks in sports, and the idea that overcoming the structural barriers would correlate with top performance in the job seems unmotivated to me.

        • Nick67 says:

          @Curt Rice
          “seems unmotivated to me” I don’t grasp your meaning. Generally that word means lazy or dis-incentivized. Did you mean unsubstantiated? Check in the economics department. You will discover that the principle is very well substantiated indeed across many different areas of economic theory. The sawmill in my hometown is now the most efficient mill on the planet in terms of board-feet per man-hour. Why? Because consistent irrational discriminatory American softwood tariffs and quotas have to be overcome. The result is top performance. Toyota and the Japanese car industry in general are what they are because the have had to overcome structural barriers and irrational discrimination.

          These things leave footprints that can be discerned. One of them is that those firms or individuals that overcome them will skew toward the upper end of the curve. If the nature of the discrimination is IRRATIONAL, that is to say it has no basis in fact, there will be noticeable economic effects that may lend themselves to measurement. That was the thrust of Summers’s speech, which so many non-economists could not, or did not understand.

          The nature of the irrational discrimination is irrelevant. Two equally sized groups with the same mean and distribution for the skills needed are considered for a number of positions. One group suffers irrational discrimination that makes the decision maker undervalue their ability by 85%. Beyond this irrationality, the rest of their attributes are rationally assessed. The number of positions to be filled is the lower 10th percentile of the skewed assessment. An independent, rational observer comes in to measure performance. What will they find?

          Since the skewing is 85%, 85% of the positions are filled by the ‘loved group.’ The other 5% of the positions are filled by the very best 5% of the ‘hated group’–and their real skills will put them in the top 5% in performance when assessed rationally. Irrationality leaves footprints.

          • Curt Rice says:

            Summers was raising the idea of an aptitude difference across large groups e.g. all men and all women. (Have you seen the recent video bouncing around with Niel DeGrasse Tyson’s response to Summers’ speech?)
            I’m not sure about your definition of irrational. If discrimination exists for reasons that actually are not relevant to the task being performed — is that what you mean by irrational? The discrimination is still a fact in that case.
            I don’t think the structure of the economic side of universities is going to make it easy to see economic effects in my particular sector, but in principle, I see the point. But maybe that is part of our disagreement. “An independent rational oberserver comes into measure performance …” That’s just not how university life works, which is why the footprints are faint … as far as I can see … but in sectors where it’s easier to measure performance through economic criteria, then they apparently are bigger, cf research suggesting gender balance giving better performance. Which leads to another point, namely the value associated with a particular team vs the value associated with the individuals. That has to somehow be worked into our assessments here, too.

      • Curt Rice says:

        Furthermore, Professor Olsen, I’m surprised that a professor of economics in Norway is seemingly unaware of the massive skewing in the workplace in Norway. There is tremendous gender segregation in our country. And there are in fact industries that do just what you suggest, namely focus on hiring women to keep costs down. Pre-school teaching would be one example; nursing another. So it should be possible to explore this more carefully based on real-world studies. In fact, it should be easy.

        • Nick67 says:

          @Curt Rice
          What E. Olson and I suggest to you is that such behavior should leave marked footprints.
          Firms that hire women because irrational discrimination at other firms has provided a pool of more skilled employees available at lower cost should reap the benefits in terms of lower costs and higher productivity. Moreover, the productivity of the women who still do get hired at firms that are practicing irrational discrimination should skew to the upper end of the curve. They were every good candidates for the job, but barely got hired for the position.

          But it is not so easy to study in the real world. How many men train as pre-school teachers or nurses? Of those men, are they preferentially employed in the field (the percentage of graduating trainees employed in the field is skewed based on gender)? Do they receive higher or lower pay? Are there union contracts in place? Do they leave the field? Why? There are many variables — which Dr Summers attempted to elucidate, to the detriment of his career.

          • Curt Rice says:

            His career doesn’t seem to have totally tanked, although there was a bump in the road, indeed.

        • E. Olson says:

          The U.S. media always points to Scandinavia as a model of gender neutral society (or even female promoting). My observation is that despite all the female friendly policies enacted by firms due to cultural reasons or forced on firms by government, that females generally follow the same pattern as in the States and elsewhere in the sense they tend to segregate to certain ‘female’ occupations and tend be statistically under-represented in the top positions (and the bottom as well). This reinforces the idea that the different distributions are more due to ‘natural’ differences in the abilities and interests of genders rather than some systematic/irrational cultural bias against women. I personally believe that people should be allowed to do what they want and rise as far as their talents and interests take them, but I do not believe that doing so will result in perfectly equal distributions among the genders.

          • Curt Rice says:

            You’re quite right that even here in Norway, which in some ways is doing very well on equal rights, there is considerable segregation in the work place. I wouldn’t necessarily follow you to your conclusion, however. The conclusion could just mean that the kinds of measures that have been taken do not address the source of the problem, and that the structural issues that hold women back have not been eliminated in Scandinavia either — indeed, that is surely true. The concept of “natural” abilities and interests of genders is going to need a lot of research to become convincing.

  • E. Olson says:

    The debate really is about nature versus nurture. Feminists argue that women’s failure to reach the top is due entirely to nurture – i.e. that boys and girls are raised differently and this creates men that are better at reaching the top than women. Thus the solution is treat boys and girls identically and in the mean-time give women preferential treatment (i.e. quotas such as the 40% board memberships reserved for women) to make up for past mistakes. Larry Summers got into big trouble because he dared mention that perhaps men had some nature given advantages over women, which might explain why men dominated in physical sciences. Substantial evidence suggests that Summers is correct, yet to the extent that nature vs. nurture debate is still unsettled and needs further research is thwarted when the mere suggestion of nature driven differences forced him to resign his position due to strong pressure from faculty that did not like that suggestion. This also means that those who do pursue research on the nature vs. nurture question are likely to be biased in favoring the nurture argument, which is likely to have a profound impact on the way the study is conducted to increase the likelihood that a pro-nurture result is obtained through subtle tweeks in the sampling, questionnaire design, etc. I suspect that pro-nurture results are also much more likely to get through the review process of top journals.

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