Two Bloomberg opinion columnists, Linda Tarr-Whelan and Jacki Zehner, claim in a co-authored piece that this 90th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States deserves recognition by the Obama Administration, along with a big push to get more female leaders in positions of power on corporate boards and in government agencies:
We need a national conversation led by the White House to explore how women decision-makers can help achieve better economic performance and a more prosperous future for all.
The administration of Barack Obama has already taken the first step by appointing talented women — including Mary Schapiro, who holds the top job at the Securities and Exchange Commission; Elizabeth Warren, who chairs the Congressional Oversight Panel; and Sheila Bair, who heads the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. — to help dig us out of the financial mess.
Having a few females at the top is wonderful, but until we have at least 30 percent of senior women in leadership, we will be ignoring a strong dynamic that is working well elsewhere.
Today, a growing body of research that shows positive outcomes from having balanced leadership has been ignored. Other countries are addressing the fundamental issue of leadership in ways that have yet to gain much traction in the U.S. We can certainly do better.
There is so much about this idea that is wrong until it’s hard to know where to begin. The problems include:
1) The underlying premise that females, because of their gender, bring something extraordinary and uniquely valuable to an organization when they occupy positions of power.
2) The implied assumption that females are underrepresented in leadership positions by dint of simply calculating the percentages of females in leadership positions relative to females in the overall population.
3) The idea that there is some nefarious, but unspoken, prejudice preventing females from acceding to positions of power.
4) The idea that government action is indicated in order to correct the under-representation of females in positions of leadership.
Instead of arguing their flawed, disingenuous and unoriginal premises, let’s just observe what is happening in the economic arena along gender lines.
I wonder, have the authors not heard the term “mancession”? Hint: It’s the idea that the male portion of the working population has been harder hit with unemployment in this recession as have women.
Statistics bear this out. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2007, male and female unemployment rates were roughly equal, at 4.7 and 4.5% respectively. In 2008, male unemployment rose to 6.1% of the male portion of the working population, while female unemployment rose to only 5.4%. In 2009, the male unemployment rate shot to 10.3%, while the female rate only rose to 8.1%. Significantly, overall male participation in the workforce (employed and unemployed) declined from nearly 79% in 1973 to 72% in 2009, while female participation increased over the same period from 44.7% to 59.2%.
This is not at all surprising to anyone that understands that technological advancements over the last hundred years or so have stripped away any competitive advantage men may have once had over women in the work force. Men and women are physiologically different. Men are on average bigger, stronger, faster and generally more capable physically than are women. Yet, there is no significant difference between the sexes in mental capabilities. As the US economy has grown ever more technologically advanced, the number of jobs for which men have a comparative advantage (strong backs) over women has declined, while the number of jobs either sex could perform equally well has increased. “Strong back” jobs, such as in construction, have been harder hit in this recession than have jobs requiring mental skills. Thus, the “mancession”.
In the ninety years since passage of women’s suffrage, women have steadily gained in economic power and influence. It’s no accident that it was shortly after a war in which technology made mass killing as easy as pulling a trigger that women gained the right to vote. One of the primary male roles in society–protector–is now as readily accomplished by a man as a woman. Either gender could equally well sit at a computer terminal and punch buttons to launch missiles or fly drones.
I would say we should do just the opposite as the authors propose, and instead of worrying about whether or not a certain percentage of females make it into the highest ranks of society, we should worry about what ninety years of female economic ascendance has done to the economic prospects of the average male. There is a surfeit of strong-backed, testosterone-addled men whose innate attributes of protectiveness and aggression have been turned from advantage to disadvantage by technological advancements. What to do about them?
Incidentally, the authors fail to mention that our last two Secretaries of State have been/are female. The Secretary of State is the President’s international representative, arguably the second most powerful person in the world, projecting American power and ideals in capitals across the globe. The Speaker of the House is female. One third (there’s your 30%) of the Supreme Court are female. Are they really serious when they say females are under-represented in positions of power in the government?