The default gender

Dec 20, 2013 18:19 UTC

Andrew Gelman wrote something really smart over at the Monkey Cage the other day regarding Ross Douthat’s column on how having daughters makes you more conservative (emphasis mine):

But here’s my question: Why is it all about “the effect of daughters”? Why not “Does having sons make you support the Democrats?” It looks to me like having sons is considered the default … Lots of discussion of how having a girl might affect your attitudes on abortion, not so much discussion about how having a boy might affect your attitudes on issues such as gun control or war, which disproportionately affect young men. This is a real problem, when issues of girls and boys, men and women, are treated asymmetrically.

The same day, there was this in the Atlantic, “The Real Reason the Humanities Are ‘in Crisis’”:

Women’s choices have changed the face of higher education over the past 35 years. A relentless focus on gender won’t resolve funding cuts. But examining the historical reasons why women turned away from the humanities might turn the purported crisis into an opportunity.

This piece is all about how women turned their back on the humanities. It’s written by a woman, and pro-women going into STEM fields. I don’t think it’s deliberately sexist, or even that there is anything necessarily wrong with it as it is.

Still, I do think Gelman is right that it’s important to think about the framing of questions — and the answers to those questions — when talking about gender inequality. What does focusing on one gender, and ignoring the other, say about our underlying assumptions of the “natural” state of society?

To me, the question of why women have abandoned the humanities is less interesting than why men have not moved in to fill those spaces. I assume that it’s for the same reasons women are flocking to the social sciences, pre-professional majors and, to a lesser extent, STEM fields: practicality.

Inequality in traditionally female fields is related to inequality in traditionally male ones. Why have more men not stepped in to become public school teachers or nurses as women have moved to become professors and doctors? The healthcare sector is booming, and isn’t expected to slow down anytime soon. Will men step up to meet demand for nurses and home health aids?

from Data Dive:

UPDATED: GM’s new CEO is another small crack in the glass ceiling

Dec 10, 2013 19:21 UTC

Today, GM announced its new CEO will be Mary Barra, the company's current head of global product development. This is big news: Barra is the first woman to head a global auto company. This move, as the below Reuters chart shows, is just one small step in the march toward management equality. Women are still far from reaching parity in upper reaches of big American corporations.

Here's more about Barra from Reuters:

With 33 years of experience at GM, Barra has risen through a series of manufacturing, engineering and senior staff positions, and is currently in charge of reducing the number of platforms on which GM builds its vehicles. A source close to Akerson's thinking who asked not to be identified said the CEO valued Barra highly for "bringing order to chaos" in the product development process.

Lydia DePillis points to a tidbit in a Bloomberg Businessweek profile of Barra from earlier this year, which suggests she may take steps toward changing the working culture at GM:

When she ended a recent meeting at 4 p.m. to pick up her daughter, others thanked her for it. “One of the guys said to me, ‘I’m so glad you said that because I’m meeting my wife.’ A lot of women’s issues are men’s issues as well.”

This is the sort of culture shift that Anne-Marie Slaughter argues has to happen if we want more women to reach upper management, and it suggests GM under Barra may end up being a leader on this front.

UPDATE: A reader points out that the chart above is misleading, due to the incredibly zoomed-in y-axis. This is a valid point, and I like his suggested tweak:

Here's that closer up:

The point I would make about the original chart is not necessarily that the glass ceiling persists, but that women are making small gains -- just way, way too slowly.


from Data Dive:

Startups’ problem with female board members

Ben Walsh
Dec 9, 2013 16:33 UTC

On Friday, Twitter announced that it was adding Marjorie Scardino to its board of directors. Scardino is the former CEO of Pearson, and The Economist Group, as well as a former Nokia director. She is Twitter's first female board member.

Reuters' Sarah McBride and Poornima Gupta take a broader look at the lack of gender diversity on startups' boards:

Male-heavy boards dominate in the start-up mecca of Silicon Valley, which prides itself on progressive thinking and putting talent first. A Reuters survey of the 10 top venture-backed start-ups, as measured by venture funds raised, shows that six do not have any women on the board, including Pinterest. And none has more than one...The gender imbalance has been the norm for years despite some recent signs of change. Google, Facebook and Twitter all went public without a woman on the board. They are more diverse now... Big, established companies, by contrast, frequently have two or more female directors, based on the 10 largest U.S. tech companies by market value. All of the top 20 have at least one.

Reuters charts the dearth of female directors at venture-funded startups compared top public tech companies. Even as startups lag public companies, women still make up just 21% of the largest public tech companies' boards:

Corporate governance: Bring on the quotas!

Nov 27, 2013 16:35 UTC

This week, Germany’s ruling coalition announced that it’s set to institute a quota for the number of women involved in corporate governance at German companies. Lawmakers are set “to introduce legislation requiring German companies to allot 30 percent of their non-executive board seats to women from 2016,” Reuters reports. The European Union as a whole is moving closer to instituting a similar 40% quota.

This way of getting women into the upper rungs of the corporate ladder is relatively new, and somewhat controversial.

Norway instituted a board quota back in 2005, which requires that at least 40% of boards of publicly listed companies be comprised of women (it’s actually slightly more complicated than that, depending on the number of people on the board, but for larger boards it is 40%). According to the European Commission, Norway’s female board membership reached 40% in 2009 — up from just 6% in 2002 — and has stayed roughly constant since then. Here’s the chart from the report:

According to a 2011 Deloitte study on corporate governance, Norway’s gender diversity in this respect is the best in the world by 10-15 percentage points.

Initial (rather limited) research suggests that forced board diversity in Norway wasn’t necessarily a good thing for firms’ profits. However, the study found that this had more to do with the corporate governance experience the new female board members had (not much), rather than their gender. This rule wasn’t instituted with short-term corporate profits in mind. It was instituted by the state, with equality in mind. And being as women are not innately incompetent at governance, there’s unlikely to be any long-term harm to corporate profits by requiring more women at the top.

A few months ago, Peggy Drexler argued that quotas don’t work because, in addition to not helping corporate profits, women are seen as token hires (“golden skirts” as they are called in Norway). However, this is about as short-sighted as the company profits argument. When Norway’s rule was instituted in 2006, there weren’t many women qualified to meet the quota, so the few women that were got put on a lot of different boards. But that’s changing, and will continue to change as companies develop new hires knowing that it is in their interest to invest in promising young women.

Drexler also argues that the quota system discounts the achievements of women who work hard and are successful — women get viewed as tokens, in other words. But the crux of the problem is there aren’t enough women achieving success, and it’s not because they don’t work hard. That’s exactly why the quota system was put in place. Making women a larger percentage of corporate boards means fewer men will be. Some men who are left out will of course grumble at this. There is no reason their grumbling should be allowed to produce results.

As IMF head Christine Lagarde mentioned last March, the hope is that the quota system is effective enough that it eventually gets phased out. “Once a threshold has been reached… we can do away with quotas and demonstrate on our own merits that we can be trusted, that we can contribute, that we deserve to be elected, hired or promoted”.

In the years since the study was done, Norway has added training programs that help women climb more quickly up the corporate ladder. And guess what? It’s working. From the NYT:

When Torhild Barlaup joined Female Future in 2008, she did not think she had the skills to be a director. Although she was a senior manager at a Norwegian car importer, Ms. Barlaup, 44, said she lacked the self-confidence to approach her superiors about such opportunities.

Soon after finishing the course, Ms. Barlaup told her managers that she was ready to take on board positions. While she said her bosses were initially surprised, they quickly found roles for her at subsidiaries that faced challenges similar to those that Ms. Barlaup had addressed in her own division.

Hello and welcome to Equals!

Nov 20, 2013 17:12 UTC

Today we’re launching Equals, a new Reuters blog devoted to gender equality and the role women play in the economy. We’ll be tackling subjects like education, workplace performance, competitiveness, pay, and leadership. The topics will encompass virtually any subject that relates to gender differences in economics, finance, and management. The blog will lean heavily on data and new research, as well as the smart voices around the web already contributing to the discussion.

Ideas, tips or complaints? Send them to

Who is responsible for closing the gender pay gap?

Nov 20, 2013 18:20 UTC

Women respond differently to incentives in the workplace. Does that mean that it’s fair that women make less?

A few weeks ago, economists John List and Uri Gneezy wrote in Freakonomics about a new study they’ve done on the gender pay gap. Currently women make about 80% of what men do, and the paper takes a stab at explaining why.

In their experiment, researchers advertised on Craigslist and interviewed about 7,000 candidates in 16 cities. To one group of people, they offered a flat hourly rate of $15 per hour, and to the other group they offered $12, with the opportunity to compete with another employee for a $6 per hour bonus (making the average $15/hour). Here is what they found:

Women were 70% less likely than men to go after the job if it had the competitive pay scale. This result accords with the broader insights from laboratory experiments that others—Muriel Niederle, Lise Vesterlund, Aldo Rustichini, etc.—have found.  Of course, this estimate doesn’t apply to every type of job and every type of person in the country, but it does underscore the fact that, when it comes to competition at a potential job, women aren’t always interested in leaning in.

This is a fair point, if a misuse of the term “lean in”. What the study shows is that women are more risk-averse in the workplace when it comes to pay. Specifically, the study finds, women prefer knowing they will get $15 per hour rather than taking the risk of earning a lower amount.

There are plenty of caveats, though. For one, men also hate competitive pay. From the study: “We observe that both men and women prefer not to be in competitive environments, but that women simply have stronger preferences against them.” The authors also say that while women are dissuaded by variable compensation that’s 50% of their base pay, they are much less so when they are only competing for 22% of their overall pay. The experiment also didn’t factor in the family situation of the applicants — could it be that the difference between those who will compete for variable income versus a higher base pay are those who don’t have dependents (more likely to be men)?

Further, less competitive pay preferences don’t necessarily mean women aren’t competitive in other parts of the workplace. It means they prefer the security of a higher base salary compared to incentive-based pay. Just because she wants to make sure she takes home $15 today doesn’t mean she isn’t working toward the promotion that pays her $20 tomorrow.

But let’s get back to the real question: Does being risk-averse when it comes to variable compensation mean women deserve to make less? More likely it means means companies should rethink their compensation structures.

Jon Dymond’s recent column in the Guardian suggested the same. He critiqued the type of thinking that “unconsciously blames women for failing to get ahead”:

The real barrier to greater gender diversity – and to coping with the common organisational challenges faced today – isn’t that women need to learn how to play the game the male way. It’s more fundamental. It’s about companies not adapting the way they operate, value and manage their people either to women or to the modern world.

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