February 21, 2011 by Ilene H. Lang
An academic paper claiming that women are underrepresented in the sciences because of the lifestyle choices they make is getting a lot of play in the media. The only problem: the authors push aside clear evidence that sexism and institutional biases are to blame. Read more about this controversial study, plus news about the glass ceiling in the UK, the benefits of diverse leadership, gender equality in revolutionary Tunisia, and the lack of paid-parental leave in the United States, in today’s C This.
Investing in Diversity
Invest in companies that invest in women. That’s the take-away message from a recent article highlighting this year’s Catalyst Award winners: Kaiser Permanente, McDonald's, and Time Warner. Noting how female leadership is tied to strong financial performance, the article concludes: “When seeking winners for your portfolio, companies that embrace diversity and empower all their workers are a great place to start.”
Show Me the Data
Researchers Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams claim in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that discrimination against women in sciences does not exist. Many disagree. Among the trove of research Ceci and Williams overlook in their paper is a 2007 landmark study, “Beyond Bias and Barriers,” which found that in sciences and engineering people are less likely to hire a woman than a man with identical qualifications, less likely to give a woman credit for identical accomplishments, and will far more often give the benefit of the doubt to a man than to a woman. “The language attributing women's lower pay to their own lifestyle choices is seductive,” said a critic of the report, Hillary Lips, Director of the Center for Gender Studies at Radford University. According to Lips, a closer look will reveal that “the impact of discrimination is actually deeply embedded in and constrains these choices.”
We’re Number One?
At least 178 countries have national laws guaranteeing paid leave for new mothers, while more than 50 nations—including most Western countries—also guarantee paid leave for new fathers. The United States has neither. “Despite its enthusiasm about ‘family values,’ the U.S. is decades behind other countries in ensuring the well-being of working families,” said Janet Walsh, deputy director of the women's rights division of Human Rights Watch. “Being an outlier is nothing to be proud of in a case like this.”
Double Up, Or Else
A Parliamentary report on gender disparity in UK boardrooms called for companies to more than double the number of women on their boards by 2015—or face government action. Today, 18 FTSE 100 companies have no women in their boardrooms and nearly half of all FTSE 250 companies do not have female directors. “Radical change is needed in the mindset of the business community if we are to implement the scale of change that is needed,” said former minister Lord Davies of Abersoch, author of the report.
Revolutions now sweeping across North Africa and the Arab world had their genesis in the example set by Tunisia. But what drove Tunisia’s successful revolution? The country’s women. “It’s no coincidence that the revolution first started in Tunisia, where we have a high level of education, a sizeable middle class and a greater degree of gender equality,” said Fatma Bouvet de la Maisonneuve, a Tunisian-born psychiatrist and author now living in Paris. “We had all the ingredients of democracy but not democracy itself. That just couldn’t last.”