Monthly Archives: February 2010

Men and women

Earlier today I watched Ireland and Italy engage is that violent but strangely compelling game of rugby. Ireland won. But this is not a post about national pride, or rugby, or even sport.  It’s about the gender divide.

I just couldn’t help thinking that such a very physical rough-and-tumble game could ever be played to the same level of popularity and physicality by women. The net result is that men have a very lucrative and renowned sport all to themselves that women cannot partake in except from the sidelines as supporters.

Moving away from domains that embody the physical (i.e. leaving sports on the sports field), are things any different?

We all know of that glass ceiling in corporate environments. It exists. Yet, there are EU suggested quotas and other mechanisms to balance the statistics in terms of the number of men and women on executive boards, senior and upper middle management positions,  and higher governmental positions. So, why are men still dominating?  Can child-bearing and caring really account for this lag? I doubt it.

Clay Shirkey may have put his finger on it in a recent controversial post. His case is that woman’s achievements are lagging behind the men because women are simply not pushy and aggressive enough.  We are not good at exaggerating our CVs, telling others how wonderful we are (even if we’re not all that wonderful), saying we can do things without knowing whether or which.  Here’s a quote –

Women “aren’t just bad at behaving like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks. They are bad at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards, even a little bit, even temporarily, even when it would be in their best interests to do so”.

Is he correct?  Yes, he is. Here’s an example from my own desk from just last week. A graduate from a number of years back called in asking for a reference to do a Masters program.  Recalling the student’s abilities I had no hesitations in agreeing to this. The he showed me the details. He was applying to a very prestigious UK university which required at least 4 years relevant domain experience which he did not have, and an IELTS score of 7.5 which he didn’t have either. I pointed out these 2 problems and was met a s0-what show of ambition. I rarely if ever get requests like this from female students but they appear on a regular basis from male students.

Shirky goes on to say that even if we dislike these negative personality characteristics they are not unusual among the movers and shakers of our worlds. Grudgingly, I have to agree.

But, and it’s a significant but……there is no way I want to exhibit these negative characteristics.  I don’t want to be that person.  I don’t want any of my students to be that person.  Yet, I see that it works.

What is the answer?

One comment says –

“I’m willing to bet that for every case of extreme male self-promotion, there’s another male four standard deviations in the opposite direction: a male who fears to raise his hand in class; a male who can’t bring himself to ask the restaurant waiter for a refill on his glass of water. Most women, however, remain happily in between the two extremes—less likely to self-promote but also less likely to become the next hermit uni-bomber”.

It’s not a solution but it’s probably closer to the truth.