It seems to me that many attempts at social engineering with regard to the equality of the sexes are doomed to failure because they don’t recognise the inherent biological differences between men and women.
A recent ABC news bulletin decried the fact that there were still many more male CEO’s than female CEO’s and on the current trend that parity would not be reached for another eighty years. Unless I am grossly mistaken, I would suggest that there will never be as many women CEO’s as men. And this is not a matter of equity; it is a matter of choice.
In counterpoint to this I will say categorically there will never be as many male nurses or kindergarten teachers as females.
We know that women are more attracted to the roles of carers and nurturers because of their biological disposition. The difference between men and women is far more complex than the physical differences in their genitalia. The difference in the genetic makeup of men and women results in differences in behaviour, personality and preferred life roles.
Those who maintain that male and female roles are learnt socially and that boys should play with dolls and girls with trucks are missing the point. Much of the difference in behaviour between men and women are inherited genetically.
There is no dispute that women can be as good as men in the role of CEO. When I was a CEO I came across many women who were very competent and effective. In recent years I have coached a number of accomplished women in senior management roles (including CEO’s) and have tried to help them advance their careers. At the risk of bringing the wrath of the sisterhood down upon me, I would suggest that the barriers for progression of women in senior management are now not hugely significant. In fact some organisations are promoting targets for women in management and boards which in fact positively discriminate in favour of women.
(It is instructive to note though, that many of the women I have coached in CEO roles head organisations devoted to the care of others.)
Of course I know and have coached many more male CEO’s. As part of my coaching methodology I always have my clients complete a personality test. The test I use is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The most prevalent type amongst CEO’s (and indeed senior managers) I have found is ENTJ. Without going into the MBTI methodology let me just briefly summarise the personality traits of an ENTJ.
People of this temperament are among other things:
- very direct,
- predisposed to factual analysis with little resort to emotional response,
- driven, competitive and often can be aggressive,
- inclined to trample on others without being aware of it,
- able to see the big picture and think strategically.
These are not the typical attributes of women. Women tend to be more empathetic, accommodating and co-operative. This is not to say women cannot act in such a way but in general it is not their preferred behaviour. It should not be surprising that when coaching senior female executives one of the most important skills I have tried to impart is assertiveness.
So let me summarise my thesis. The attributes that are necessary for a person to become a CEO are attributes more common to men than women. This is not to say that some women don’t have those attributes or indeed that some women can learn enough of these attributes to make the grade. But if left to their natural proclivities many more men than women will choose and succeed at being CEO’s.
Jordan Peterson in his best seller 12 Rules for Life wrote:
Many of the female clients (perhaps even the majority) that I see in my clinical practice have troubles in their jobs and family lives not because they are too aggressive but because they are not aggressive enough.
They assume that cooperation should be the basis of all social transactions, and they avoid conflict (which means they avoid confronting problems in their relationships as well as at work.) They continually sacrifice for others.
Now I would argue that these are in general admirable traits but they don’t equip you to be a CEO.
So what then might be the motivation to seek to promote more women into the role of CEO? Well I would expect that this is a battle for the recognition of status. CEO’s are both well remunerated and have high status in our society. And it is unfortunate that because of the innate attributes that I have enunciated above that more men than women achieve such status.
Yet if we were to ask people who had the most impact on their lives, many would nominate their mothers. But mothers tend not to get the public accolades that are bestowed upon successful executives.
For quite a few years I provided executive coaching services for a law firm. The firm was quite enlightened in its personnel policies and genuinely cared for its employees. I coached a number of their female lawyers who had been made equity partners or were being contemplated for such promotion. These were very competent women who had no trouble holding their own against their male colleagues. But once they had children they inevitably felt guilty that they were not doing enough as mothers in support of their progeny. Now these women were well-paid professionals who had the wherewithal to afford to hire qualified caring staff to fill the gap when they were unavailable. But of course that is not enough. Their biological urges were such that they really needed to spend more time with their children. But if they did that, they felt their professionalism was compromised and they were letting the firm down unless they worked the same ridiculous hours of their male counterparts. Taking maternity leave was problematic for them for similar reasons. Not only would they not be holding up their end, the clients they had cultivated and had fostered good relationships with, would be given over to other lawyers so that when they returned to work they would have to go out and win new clients.
A Stanford University research paper titled Retaining and advancing women in national law firms found that only 15% of equity partners in major US law firms were women.
Female doctors seem to have sorted themselves out better. Many women doctors with children work part time in medical centres successfully integrating their work and family lives. But this is hardly likely to be an option if you are a female executive aspiring to be a CEO.
The same problem confronts women wanting to enter politics. We often denigrate politicians but from my personal experience politicians work pretty hard and have huge demands placed upon them. It is not surprising then that some of our most successful female politicians (for example Julia Gillard and Julie Bishop) don’t have children.
So the problem as I see it is not that women don’t have adequate opportunity to compete for high income and high status jobs – they do. The problem seems to me to be twofold.
Firstly the market, unthinking and uncaring as it is, largely determines the remuneration of people in senior positions. Unfortunately the careers that attract the highest remuneration are often those that women through their inherent genetic characteristics are less suitable for, or are less inclined to pursue, than males,
Secondly, as a corollary, the roles that women are genetically predisposed to are undervalued by the market or are ignored altogether.
As I have pointed out in other essays, our economy recognises those that make beds in hotels and care for other people’s children in childcare centres but give no recognition at all to mothers that stay at home and do the same things in support of their own families.
As I have been writing this essay, another article appeared in the press on International Women’s Day decrying the fact that almost twice as many boys were taking advanced maths in their final years at school as girls, despite considerable expenditure to try and equalise the outcomes. Does it not occur to our educators that such choices are based on biological differences and that any amount of positive intervention in favour of girls is unlikely to significantly change these outcomes?
There is no doubt human behaviour is vastly affected by social learning but we ignore the effects of our biological history at our peril. Consider the following statistics:
- Men murder more often than women by a factor of at least seven to one.
- Men take more risks than women and as a consequence are five times more likely to die in a traffic accident.
- Boys are much more likely to be hyperactive than girls and to be afflicted with autism.
It is naïve at the very least to believe that men just choose to behave this way. This is the response to the testosterone that they are genetically endowed with. Sometimes this leads to poorer results for men for example their higher levels of suicide and deaths due to risk taking and violence. But in other circumstances, for example, in the rough and tumble world of business, it provides them with advantages.
Our goal should always be to ensure that women and men have equal opportunities but it is unlikely that because of these innate biological differences there will ever be equality of outcomes. Unfortunately it seems to be an anathema to the champions of gender politics to believe that any of the different outcomes between males and females might actually be driven by choices associated with their biology rather than by gender related prejudices in our society.