Monday, June 25, 2012

Gender Parity in the Workforce

Should we have gender parity in the workplace?

Anne-Marie Slaughter raised the issue last week in The Atlantic. Writing in The Economist’s Democracy in America blog M. S. agrees with her but doesn’t know quite why.

Be that as it may, the blogger summarizes Slaughter’s recommendations cogently:

In order to give women a fair shot at gaining 50-50 parity in the ranks of societal leadership, Ms Slaughter says, we need to reform the workplace. That means making working hours coincide with school hours, appreciating the discipline of employees who raise kids as much as we appreciate the discipline of employees who run marathons, and scrapping the "culture of face time" that demands that employees spend huge amounts of generally pointless overtime at the office in a sort of potlatch to demonstrate their willingness to destroy their own lives in homage to the organisation.

Slaughter and the blogger find it to be a reasonable idea, but neither have an opinion  about how many rules and regulations would be required and who would enforce them.

But, why do they both believe that working extra hours is superficial and superfluous? Ergonomic studies have suggested that a little extra time at the office yields disproportionately large productivity gains.

The blogger introduces a more important issue: women in many advanced industrial societies are not reproducing at what is called the replacement rate.

He explains it:

If you've got an economic system where the rules and incentives are profoundly interfering with society's ability to produce and raise kids, you're going to encounter massive problems. This, to a great extent, is what's going on in Japan and in southern Europe, where birth rates have dropped way below the replacement level because sexist societies have failed to make it easy for women to have both careers and children. In a post-industrial society where women are educated, if you really force that choice, you'll end up with a lot of women who choose the career, and birth rates of 1.2 to 1.4 children per woman. Long-term GDP growth flatlines, pension schemes become unaffordable, and a lot of things start to go wrong. North America and northern Europe have been much more progressive on this front, and we have much less scary population outlooks. France has the most generous, comprehensive child-care scheme in the euro zone; it also has the highest birth rate.

The low birth rate in countries like Spain and Greece is making their pension systems unaffordable and is driving them to the edge of insolvency.

But are economic incentives really the problem? The blogger does not want to pay women to have children and does not want women to have to choose between career and children.

In his words:

We don't want a society in which we pay women a huge amount to convince them to have children, despite the accompanying sacrifice of any chance at a career. We want a society in which having kids is a normal, natural, rewarding part of life for women and men, and can be integrated with having a career just as playing sports or involvement in local charities and churches can.

Different cultures have different policies about motherhood. Sometimes they are rational; sometimes they are not. In China, where feeding the people is a challenge, women are forbidden to have more than one child. In other cultures women are encouraged to have many children, regardless of whether or not they can afford it.

When overpopulation is a problem people will have fewer children. When a culture believes that there is strength in numbers women will be pushed to have more children.

Also, in some cultures women choose to have fewer children because men cannot earn a sufficient income to support them and their children. Given the choice many women would be happy to spend more time at home with their children. If the economy does not provide good jobs for men then women will not be able to have more children and to care for them. 

The question is pertinent, but complicated.

Finally, the blogger supports Slaughter’s position for no real reason:

For the moment, though, I can't get any further than saying I agree with Ms Slaughter that we should work on our attitudes and reform our workplaces to make it possible for women and men to spend lots of time raising a family and still get to the top of their professions, because doing so makes our country a more splendid place to live.

As soon as competition enters the picture this dreamy wish becomes just that.

When two men are competing for a promotion and one can work longer and harder than the other because his wife is a full time parent, he will have an appreciable advantage.

Surely, there are exceptions to the rule, but when a father and mother share parenting equally the most common result will be that neither will be getting to the top of their professions. Who knows how they will react to being passed over for promotions in favor of their more industrious colleagues. 

To create the world that Slaughter and the blogger yearn for you would have to ban free market competition.

Even if you rewire everyone's brain and convince every American company to sacrifice its profitability to a utopian fantasy, you would merely be making America less competitive in the international marketplace.


Dresden said...

"Even if you rewire everyone's brain and convince every American company to sacrifice its profitability to a utopian fantasy, you would merely be making America less competitive in the international marketplace."

Amazing how that doesn't even seem to cross their little minds. And these people are considered part of the 'intelligentsia'. We're doomed.

Dennis said...

I often wonder if these people ever think through their ideas to there ultimate conclusion. I doubt that any of them have ever thought about the amount of logistics needed to support a city, much less a country, like New York.
I wonder where they get the idea that the world has to be change to satisfy them. We deserve to fail as a nation with the lack of knowledge exhibited by these no nothings. It is no wonder we have a "poser" president who is supported by a "poser" intelligentsia. As our feckless leader states," How quotidian."

Stuart Schneiderman said...

You both hit on the most important point. You have a very smart writer for an excellent publication raising important issues... and then caving in to the accepted dogma, without performing the most elementary rational analysis, because he is probably afraid of what will happen to his career and his marriage if he disagrees.

David Foster said...

"making working hours coincide with school hours"

Too many people are losing sight of the point that work is about *getting something done*, not just performing a ritual to get paid and generate self-esteem.

What if working hours for air traffic controllers (a profession that includes quite a few women) were adjusted to "coincide with school hours"? Airline schedules would be pretty limited. Or what about lawyers preparing for a major case??..should they limit their working hours to school hours? ("Sorry about that death sentence, Joe, but you know I had to knock off work at 3:30")

There ARE many jobs where there could be a lot more flexibility in where and how the work is performed...indeed, many companies are moving in that direction...but it is far from all of them.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Great points, David. Again, I am amazed that Anne-Marie Slaughter, a serious academic who used to have an extremely important job in the State Department did not have the time or the energy or the inclination to think through her proposals... which, as you note, do not stand up to scrutiny.

Dennis said...

A serious academic is getting as hard to find as trying to find an honest politician. When one notes that credentialism has long been separated from the purpose of acquiring the education, knowledge, and skills et al that credentials are suppose to represent then it should not surprise anyone that work that actually accomplishes something and a job might get separated as well.

Anonymous said...

I have never figured out why school does 't adjust its hours to accomodate working families schedules. The education system has been heavily dominated by women who find the career family friendly.