Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Disrespecting Women's Free Choices

It is a truth universally acknowledged that women are underrepresented in corporate executive ranks. The reason, Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino explains, is that women do not want to occupy those lofty positions. They are unwilling to make the trade-offs that the positions require.

Many researchers consider this to be evidence of a crime, of sexist discrimination. They are persuaded that having more women in more positions of executive authority makes a company more profitable. And yet, they rarely consider the simple fact that women who do not want to rise up the corporate hierarchy have a right to their preference, that they are free to choose how they spend their time and energy. And that perhaps we should respect them for as much.

The researchers imagine that people are wired to seek personal happiness-- individual self-actualization-- and that women who want to spend more time with their children are compromising their happiness. Researchers never seem to consider that women are often happy to spend extra time with their children, that men are not adequate substitute mothers, and that mothers are happy to fulfill their moral duty to care for and to raise their children. 

Apparently, these studies assume that exercising corporate power and earning gobs of money are the only real measure of happiness. They systematically disrespect women’s life choices because they are laboring under an ideological imperative that claims that career success is the sine qua non of human and especially female happiness.

These studies never ask whether or not children will suffer when their mothers abandon them. When Anne-Marie Slaughter famously quit her job as head of policy planning in Hillary Clinton’s State Department, she explained that her absences from home had harmed her children. Her older son, cared for by his father, had been suspended from school, had started hanging around with the wrong crowd and had been picked up by police. 

Slaughter did what a good mother should do. She decided that her and her husband’s experiment in role reversal parenting had not worked. So she made a free choice and moved back home. Naturally, feminists rejected her for as much. They blamed it on the patriarchy. But, they never showed respect for Slaughter’s free choice. 

When it comes to freedom to choose, feminists often accept only one free choice. Any time a woman chooses to live her life in a way that does not promote feminist ideology, the ideologues trash her.

In her Scientific American article, Gino describes the gender disparity that exists in American corporations:

There is a striking gender gap in leadership positions across our society. Women represent 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, only 15 percent of executive officers at those companies, less than 20 percent of full professors in the natural sciences, and only 6 percent of partners in venture capital firms. Scholars of the gap suggest that some of the explanation relates to how people perceive and react to women – the gender-based discrimination we so often read about in the news, which is perpetuated by both men and women. Compared to men, research shows, women are perceived as less competent and lacking in leadership potential. They receive fewer job offers and lower starting salaries, and are more likely to encounter challenges to, and skepticism of, their ideas and abilities.

As for the possibility that there is something about being a woman that makes it more difficult to be a good manager, the professor does not consider the point. And, as for the Darwinian theory that a more powerful woman will be less attractive to men while a more powerful man will be more attractive to women, apparently this does not enter into anyone’s thinking. Anyone, that is, except for the women themselves.

For many women, being a manager is simply not satisfying and it is not worth the tradeoff.

Gino continues:

... women feel less happy than men when they occupy managerial positions, and expect to make more tradeoffs between life and work in high level positions. This points to a different way of understanding the problem and potentially solving it.

Naturally, she assumes, based on no real evidence, that women do not end up with the career that they want. It might be that they end up with the life that they want, but that does not seem to matter. She adds that companies with more women in executive roles are more profitable, message that apparently has not reached the immensely profitable companies in Silicon Valley. One repeats, yet again, that the company that was more aggressive in hiring and promoting women was Yahoo! How did that work out.

Thus, without knowing what kinds of companies are being referenced, I would be skeptical of these observations. If they are true, the marketplace will easily correct the situation. Companies that want to be more profitable will hire more women and companies that refuse to do so will fall by the wayside.

In Gino’s words:

Women may not end up with access to the type of career they want. As for firms, a recent paper based on data from nearly 22,000 firms globally found that going from having no women in corporate leadership (i.e., the CEO, the board, and other C-suite positions) to a 30 percent female share is associated with a 15 percent increase in profitability. Such benefits are due, at least in part, to the diversity in thinking and perspective that women and men bring to the table. As the researchers found, a single female CEO doesn’t perform better than her male counterpart when controlling for gender in the rest of the firm, but a higher rate of gender diversity throughout the organization does have an impact. There is a very good business case, then, for organizations interested in increasing gender diversity. But how can they get there, knowing that there are many reasons that may hold women back?

But, what if the women who occupy these high executive positions find themselves not having the lives that they want to have, not being able to spend time with their children when they want to do so? High executive positions are very demanding and very time consuming. When you reach the pinnacle of corporate success your time is no longer your own. Do we know whether these executive women are married or unmarried, have or do not have children?  Life has trade-offs and people ought to be respected for the trade-offs they make.

Gino remarks:

This is a question addressed in a recent paper by Brockmann and colleagues. In fact, the paper compellingly demonstrates that for women in positions of leadership, the level of happiness and life satisfaction is lower than that of their male counterparts.

She adds:

Top level positions in organizations come with many benefits, from higher pay to more influence, prestige and power. But they also require a larger time commitment. For women, that time commitment is often viewed as the need to make tradeoffs between family and work activities. Promotions to top positions in an organization, in fact, often involve sacrificing free time for money. And women realize that’s the case.

Again, why the subtle but persistent disrespect for the choices that women freely make:

he reason is that they see the position generating not only positive outcomes (such as money and prestige) as much as men do, but also negative ones (such as tradeoffs they’ll need to make and time constraints). That’s where men and women differ: in how much they predict these negative outcomes will affect their lives. The tradeoffs and constraints women predict they’ll experience when reaching high-level positions are related to the fact that, as we find in our work, women have a higher number of life goals as compared to men.

Researchers happily blame it on unsupportive men. This means that men should abandon their career goals in favor of their wives, regardless of the effect this will have on couple dynamics. We recall, yet again, that Anne-Marie Slaughter’s husband, Andrew Moravcsik did exactly that… and that it did not work out very well. One notes that such role reversal marriages require an ideological commitment that most people do not have and do not want to have. Being loyal to your ideas and being loyal to your children are not the same thing.

In Gino’s words:

Research has found that women often do not get the support they may need at home, when caring for house-related activities (e.g., doing laundry or making dinner) or when caring for children. It is possible, then, that women may worry their partner won’t step up and take over some of the domestic duties – and that such worry is larger for them than for men.

Naturally, Gino wants to rectify the situation and feels it is desirable to do so. She wants to create conditions that will induce women into making decisions that might not be in the best interests of their children:

Women may consciously decide not to climb the organizational ladder even when they are well qualified. Organizations and leaders can influence this decision, though. As suggested by the work of Brockmann and colleagues, they can do so by structuring and compensating managerial work differently. Building in more breathing space for leadership positions, and allowing for flexible career paths, are the types of solutions that could lead both men and women to reach high levels positions in organization and experience the happiness that can come with them.

Again, the question remains: how much do we respect women when they make choices that they feel to be the best for them and their children. And, if women are more engaged and more consumed by the work as executives what will happen to their children?


trigger warning said...

With regard to the children, mothers are inadequate to the task...

It Takes A Village. [Village: (n) government-run "free" day care center]

Knowing first-hand the hours that CEOs of Fortune 500 companies dedicate to work, I'm surprised that the paucity of Womyn in those positions is not seen as evidence of Wise Womyn life choices.

"[Envy] never smiles but when the wretched weep,
Nor lulls her malice with a moment's sleep,
Restless in spite: while watchful to destroy,
She pines and sickens at another's joy;
Foe to herself, distressing and distrest,
She bears her own tormentor in her breast."
--- Ovid

David Foster said...

Maybe we say that women who choose to stay home with their own children are engaged in "artisanal child-raising." That terminology might make it OK in certain circles.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

What's great about this post is that it's tied to choices. There is not enough emphasis in the popular press about choice. Instead, we get sophisticated statistical analysis as testimony to how modern life is stacked against women gaining social power and economic hegemony. These bleak theoies imagine that women have no power unless their socioeconomic outcomes are the same as those of men. This ignores the role of choice as the most powerful detrrminant of most everything. Choices come with consequences, colloquially referred to as "trade-offs."

There is choice, and then there is bioogy. In the main, women do not take risks the way men do. In fact, this is hard-wired. You may remember the brouhaha about female Olympic gymnasts and how tiny they are. And the "scandal" is that their growth is intentionally stunted. They are kept small like little girls, delaying puberty as long as possible. Many were horrified to hear this. At the same time, I read an article as to why this is so. It has to do with biology. When a woman enters puberty, she undergoes all kinds of biological changes. Part of this is her willingness to pursue, tolerate, and endure risk. How can a young female gymnast do repeated tumbles, falls and somersaults without care for her own body? By delaying the associated realities of womanhood. Woman is designed to bear children, and a woman cannot reliably bear healthy children who survive the long childhood if the mother is professionally engaged in risky activities -- in this case, top-tier competition in gymnastics, where points are awarded on form and degree of difficulty. It makes sense, and it's tied to biology. Ever seen the gaggle zero-in on a fellow hen who's stepped out of line? Hell hath no fury. This is why women are normative. Men take greater risk so as to gain greater reward. That, too, is biological. Women tend to like men who have garnered lots of rewards and attention.

Which brings me to all the victimy talk in vogue these days about NFL players, concussions and degenerative brain disease. A high-level football player saying they don't know about the risks is like a cigarette smoker saying they didn't know smoking was bad for them until they got the cancer diagnosis. It simply doesn't wash. People turn a blind eye to the manly joys of football: the thrill of victory, the stadiums filled to capacity with fanatics, the camaraderie, the eager and beautiful women, the fame, and all the money. Now, later in life, a disproportionate number of retired players' brains have turned to mush. Disproportionate compared to what? A schoolteacher? We're told the retired football pro suffers because of a vast conspiracy to deny concussions and the long-term impact of ritual physical abuse the NFL level of play demands. Poppycock! It's all out there, for all the world to see. Still people whine and claim that some retired football players' health is proof of some evil tragedy. Is this a balanced perspective? Methinks not. Given the prevailing narrative of injustice, the only viable long-term solution to this is to ban football or sue it'll the NFL into the Stone Age, which would delight womyn's groups everywhere. That's the point, isn't it? In the end, you can only make the game so safe, and some have rightly speculated that making the equipment better (read: safer) makes players more ruthless and reckless in inflicting greater pain to others with less risk to oneself. The truth is that football is brutal, and anyone can see that. Yet we celebrate our gladiators, and reward them handsomely in all kinds of ways. Trade-offs?

There are some people who just like to bitch, and see a victim in every story. It's a worldview, but it doesn't seem like a terribly happy one.

David Foster said...

Years ago, I attended a company management training course at which we had an outside speaker who was a psych professor of the Jungian persuasion. He talked about personality types and how people of different types see the world differently. His advice to us was this: As managers and executives, you will tend to want to hire people who are like you. Resist this temptation, because if you surround yourself with similar people, you will all have the same blind spots and will happily all walk off the cliff together.

With all the talk about Diversity these days, there is little discussion of this kind of diversity, or of any kind of diversity beyond race/gender/sexual preference.

If you have a company in which the senior executives are all Ivy League graduates, and you have a big hire-more-women campaign...but the women hired are also Ivy League...you have probably done less than you had hoped for diversity of thought patterns.

Sam L. said...

This is a classic case of Ideology Uber Alles. Ve know BESSSSSST vot ist gut for YOU. Deviation vill NOT be tolerated.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

David Foster @May 23, 2017 at 8:08 AM:

Your comment is prescient. People are blind to their biases. I am a consultant, and my focus is business planning, human capital and innovation. I see my clients deluding themselves every day and hiring clones of themselves on a cognitive, affective and constive dimensions. It's remarkable, and it happens when interviewers are not clear on the company's core values and the value the position provides. So they connect on mutual interests, and the bias rodeo is on!

What is most striking in our political culture is that we've gone from creating equal opportunity to elevate the content of our character, to focusing exclusively on immutable characteristics. This foolish and dangerous practice of setasides and quotas is incredibly damaging to our society's greatest goals... so they say.

James said...

In business, especially in business you should hire the person who can make the company the most money legally for whatever they do for the company. You should, but for the reasons cited above it hardly ever happens.

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: Again, the question remains: how much do we respect women when they make choices that they feel to be the best for them and their children. And, if women are more engaged and more consumed by the work as executives what will happen to their children?

Choice is a key word, and all choices have trade offs, and making "men's choices" as the defaults for business is not necessarily the only way. It's like Winona LaDuke saying "We don't want a bigger piece of the pie. We want a different pie." So there are open questions on what social structures are needed to support male or female leadership, and also at different ages. Ultra-specialization might be "best" in some cases, while deficient in others.

We can also remember is life is long than the 20 some years it takes to raise kids, and so the question is whether or how older women are good leaders, or how their leadership may differ from men. And I've heard it said that midlife genders can reverse, especially as testosterone decreases for men, and estrogen for women, so both men and women may find the second half of their lives focusing in completely different places than the first half.

A second key thing to remember statements like "'Behind every successful man there is a woman." And so ambitious women perhaps will find delegation important, even including hiring nannies who will be more like family than hirees.

So women of means will always take different choices than women who are forced to lift themselves by their own bootstraps. Women should not CHOOSE to be mothers because they think that's the only thing they can do. Women should not CHOOSE to not be mothers because they think they can't be ambitious otherwise. Choice only exists if the trades off are predictable.

Even men, like Ralph Nader admitted to himself his career was more important than marriage or kids. So many men also sacrifice a family for career, and they'll also find themselves risking a lonely second half of life if they're not careful.

Ares Olympus said...

James said... In business, especially in business you should hire the person who can make the company the most money legally for whatever they do for the company. You should, but for the reasons cited above it hardly ever happens.

Didn't Enron try that? Or at least the "legally" part apparently doesn't apply once you have a race to the bottom, where you reward only short term gains.

The employee-owned (<100) engineering consulting company I work for has actually had many meetings where they've discussed the problems of the nature of work, whether to go where the most money is, or go where the most satisfaction is. Neither solution alone works, but if you're going to be at work 60 hours/week you'd better enjoy the work.

And when we did try to maximize profits with new management, and did rapid a period of rapid expansion to handle bigger projects, and increased our charge rates, we found many smaller clients doing good work could no longer afford our services. And we also expanded our competition to hook in the big long term projects.

So every business should be careful once you find a niche to not abandon it too quickly by lure of bigger profits in a bigger pond.

James said...

Of course in the world businesses do such things. Businesses do stupid things all the time, but so do employees. As long as the employment relationship is freely entered upon and can be freely terminated legally by either party then there shouldn't be a employee problem. If the relationship is encumbered by any type of compulsion then it is a form of slavery.