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Gender (in)equality

There is a new World Economic Forum report on gender imbalances. Yes, this looks like another of these regular reports to tell us what we’ve observed in our day-to-day anyhow.  These reports will continue to make regular appearances as long as the gender gap persists. Unfortunately, I don’t expect a shortages of them for quite some time yet.

There is some interesting content from the WEF report but it requires careful reading to see the full picture.  The results are presented as relative rankings.  So, we might be close to gender equality on a category but yet achieve a low ranking because other countries are even closer.

  • Actually, we in Ireland are not doing too badly at all. We lie in 6th position (out of 130+ countries) for gender equality, behind Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and New Zealand. Nonetheless, it is all relative. The differential statistic is 77.7% suggesting there is still a 22;3% gap.
  • It’s likely that the Marys are pushing up our rankings.  Having a current female President and a recent female President of the country helps. The (albeit few) high-ranking female TDs also helps, .  Indeed, the ranking scores for political empowerment tally with the overall scores. We lie in 7th position with many of the same countries ahead of us. Yet, we fall woefully short of equality with 14 female to 86 male members of parliament.
  • In terms of educational achievement, we are doing so well here in Ireland that we have a (equal with several other countries) top ranking. The analyses that fill the newspapers when the junior and leaving cert results come out tally with this. However, we are only ranked 25th when it comes to economic participation, and we have a scary 89 ranking on health.   Having said that it’s worth noting that the health category is measured on female/male birth ratios and on mortality age. Neither are problematic in Ireland.
  • The only place where women seem to outdo men in the various categories and sub-categories is enrollment in tertiary education. Yet, I can’t help but wonder what this means when all these wonderful females complete their education. They / we don’t seem to be making to the higher echelons. Women dominate the lower levels of government and business while men dominate the upper levels. How come?  What skills are men bringing to the table that enables them to climb that ladder and seemingly seep through glass ceilings by osmosis while women have to take hammers to it and only make a dent?  Is there something missing in education and training that facilitates this? Or is it simply down to practicalities like childcare (after all, guys simply cannot to the 9 months thing and all that goes with it) or is it more subtle in terms of social pressures?
  • The pay gap is arguably the gap that has closed most in recent years with women catching up with their male counterparts in terms of being paid for an equal days work. Yet, the very thought that any 2 people are paid differently for equal work is bizarre.  It’s a safe guess that this a problem within genders as well as between genders.  How many men out there work as hard and as well as the person in the next desk/office to them and yet get paid less?

The stats here go from 2006 to 2010 inc.I can’t help but wonder what the next set will throw up. Will we ever close that gap completely?





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.

Rising grades back in the news again

UK politicians wonder how / why the number of 1:1 degrees awarded in the UK has almost doubled in a decade. Read about it here and here. Yesterday’s Observer also carried the story, garnering 250+ comments.  There seems to be suggestion that different institutions require different levels of effort from students to achieve their degree classification. The conclusion seems to be that the watchdog overseeing standards isn’t doing its job right.

I wonder how they could possibly consider that standards are and / or should be the same across the entire gamut of universities. It’s absurd to think that that there can be equality. It would be like comparing the proverbial apples and oranges. Yes, they are both fruit but so vastly different.

The only way equality and direct comparisons across institutions could be made is if marking were centralised ala the leaving certificate in this country, and all students sit the same unseen papers.  That’s not going to happen. The administration nightmare for a start puts a limit on it. Even if that obstacle was overcome, such an approach would merely strait-jacket third-level education, preventing any flexibility and innovation, let alone eating into much-valued (from everyone’s point of view) academic freedom. Third level would become a continuation of the second-level spoon feeding exercise, and that’s not even useful at second-level.

The politicians argue that employers have a right to know whether they should employ person A with a degree from university A or person B with the “same” degree from university B.  I don’t think it is as straight-forward as that.  An employee brings a lot more than their degree parchment to a job. Indeed, that degree parchment is just one indicator of their abilities for the particulars of a given job. I have heard of employers not taking 1:1 students believing that they tend to be one-dimensional and not as rounded personalities as those with lower honours. Consider as another example the most successful graduate of my undergraduate degree. This person is now one of the country’s foremost business people but didn’t come top of the class or achieve a first class honours qualification.  Yet, he achieved the grounding required to proceed to his very impressive achievements.

In Ireland we have a much smaller number of universities and colleges than in the UK. As such it should be easier to ascertain what is a “good” college and what is not. The definition of “good”, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It differs for everyone.  If a potential student is interested in studying a precise area of engineering then their definition of good is limited down to the few institutions offering this course. If they have a strong location preference then it is likely that their choice is very much reduced, particularly if they live outside of Dublin.  Students need to work out what is important to them, rank and weight those criteria, attending as many open days for different institutions as they can. In this way, they can choose the institution that best fits their definition of “good”.

A problem is that far too many students don’t do this. Their decisions can be made on flimsy criteria such as: “my boy/girlfriend is going to _______ so I’m going there too”, or “my daddy wants me to study ______ at ________ so that’s what I’m doing”, or “that college give too many / few first class honours degrees”, and for older students “I don’t know how I will juggle in studying with the job and family life but I feel obliged to obtain a masters”.  A student’s goal on entering college is likely to effect the award classification they get on leaving. If entry goals are so varied and in some cases, shallow, what can we really expect?

This looks like a debate that will run and run.


Update: Jobless graduate sues her college

I couldnt even begin to comment.