Guest post: Sexism squanders human resources

Originally a comment by Sea Monster on Guest post: Class and gender in Saudi Arabia.

The human resource thing interests me a lot. I first noticed it at Uni and it then at work. Loud mouth blokes wouldn’t hear a good idea if was uttered by a woman.

If I repeated it (sorry did you just say…) they would hear it.

I’ve mentored two successful projects at work where the winning ideas came from women. One of the projects received industry accolades.

Again when the ideas came from women the blokes never heard them. When I debriefed the team (did anyone notice…) there were ashen faces around the table when they realised the importance of what they had ignored. The loud mouths were decent enough to apologise on that occasion.

In the Anglophone world we’ve undergone a shift over the last few decades from calling managing people ‘Personnel’ to calling it ‘Human Resources’. The idea is we’re supposed to be extracting the value from the resource. And we need all hands on deck, in my opinion. We’re facing big challenges. We need to get at all the innovative and creative thinking we can get at. We need it to be diverse and not groupthink or echo chamber.

The Saudis have elected to lock up so much human resource. They don’t want to extract it. And it seems its not only locked up in women’s minds.

What your AEI types and your Gamergaters and your Dawkins and your Hoff-Summers don’t realise is that we in the West also lock up human resource by excluding women even if it is more subtle ways. Ignoring women’s input. Wearing that shirt. We’re ignoring good ideas. In management speak we’re leaving money on the table. What they don’t get is that affirmative action or assisted childcare (and the rest) is about extracting human resources. What they don’t realise is that making special allowances for women’s issues is actually congruent with their market capitalism. It produces better outcomes.


  1. says

    The thing is I don’t think market capitalism is the only goal. There are multiple goals. Keeping up one’s odds of moving up the totem poll is probably often another. And keeping out roughly half the population is one way to do that.

  2. John Horstman says

    @Leo Buzalsky #1: A quick note on inclusive language – enough people experience the metaphorical usage (especially when it’s a poor metaphor) of objects or customs primarily identified with colonized cultures as a microaggression that one should avoid such phrases if one cares to not potentially alienate members of groups that were colonized. I suggest trying to use “ladder” in place of “totem pole” – it’s also a better analogy because totem poles were used for any number of purposes and have no uniform hierarchy system for the positions of the images (some are narrative progression; some have the top as the position of prominence, some the bottom, and some the eye-level position; some are purely ornamental and assign no meaning to position, except perhaps aesthetic meaning; etc.).

    At any rate, I think you’re quite correct that privilege has intersectional considerations, too – it’s rarely all about one axis of privilege.

  3. Hj Hornbeck says

    Hoo boy, never get an academic talking about their research. 😉

    Historically, families have always had at least two “incomes.” Even people who buy into a strict division of labour between the sexes concede that all sexes brought food to the table, from picking berries to doing farm chores. This is quite stable against adversity; if one person cannot provide for the family, they can try to subsist on another person’s contribution. Arbitrary restrictions on what each sex can do artificially limit that capacity, and endanger survival.

    On rare occasions, though, a single provider has been enough to feed an entire family. Artificial restrictions aren’t a factor anymore, and don’t face the opposition they would in a two+ income society. But of course, no culture has ever fit on that extreme, so you wind up with a mixture of both. Nor has any culture been free of economic swings down to the individual level.

    This suggests a theory: during economic downswings, societies are pushed towards feminist attitudes, as sexist attitudes squander human resources. During upswings, there is no strong draw either way, but as it’s tougher to correct justice than perpetuate it societies tend to gradually drift towards anti-feminist attitudes. I dub this “Foul-Weather Feminism.”

    Early drafts of that paper included two anecdotes to support this. Iceland, for instance, has been sympathetic to feminism for some time. In 1975, a radical woman’s movement called the Red Stockings suggested all women should go on strike. This came to pass on October 24th, when 90% of Iceland’s women refused to work or look after the children.[1] Yet by 2009, Iceland had a greater gender pay gap than all of Europe, one that persists to this day.[2] Why? Well, Iceland was profiting greatly from the housing bubble in the USA, thanks to deregulation and aggressive investment in foreign countries, which led to a huge economic boom in a small country.[3] As banking was predominantly a male profession there, this inflated the gender pay gap.

    Iceland suffered a significant economic crash in 2009, a 10% loss in GDP between 2008 and 2010. In response, during the 2009 election they voted in Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir as Prime Minister, the first woman to hold that position in Iceland and the first world leader to be openly lesbian. Her government implemented a vast number of reforms, most notably the criminalization of the purchase of sex and the shutdown of all strip bars in 2009; gender quotas were implemented in 2010, as well as a bill allowing single women to receive donor sperm.[4]

    Japan saw an incredible economic boom after WWII, thanks in part to shrewd investment in infrastructure and foreign economies, plus a practice of tight industry-government and industry-industry relations that reduced bureaucracy and waste due to competition. [5] With only one income necessary to sustain a family, and every person promised a job for life, their culture drifted towards heavy sexism. So what happened after that bubble burst?

    Japan has suffered from a decade-long recession, and seen sluggish growth in comparison to other developed nations. In 2006, Maki Fukasawa wrote an article on what she dubbed “soushoku danshi” or “grass-eating boys,” who rejected the strict gender roles that their fathers had embraced and were exploring behaviors previously held to be feminine. Roughly 60% of men under 23 now fall into this category, and 42% of those between 23 and 34.[6] The last decade has also seen the rise of “nikushoku onna,” or “carnivorous women,” who also reject traditional roles by taking the initiative in relationships and pursuing men more aggressively.

    Digging up supportive anecdotes is pretty easy, though. In my paper, I look at two decades worth of global economic data in search of a similar effect. Child care is almost universally undervalued, but in a contradictory way: parents looking after their children receive no income and few benefits for it, yet third parties looking after children do earn an income.

    This means that during an economic downturn, the shift from single to multiple income would cause a “boost” in overall GDP and smooth out small economic bumps. It isn’t an actual boost, mind, it’s just that an undervalued task is being assigned more value. A 100% feminist society would see no cushion, because child care would not be undervalued, and a 100% sexist society would see no cushion, because gender norms would prevent the necessary economic mobility. Interestingly, this also provides a secondary way to measure the gender gap: if women are truly undervalued compared to men, then an influx of women would have less of a “boost” than an influx of men. By comparing the size of each effect, we can measure the gender income gap on a global level.

    And I found… pretty much what you’d expect. The cushion effect exists, and it’s greater for an influx of men than it is for an influx of women. Again, here’s the gory details.

  4. Hj Hornbeck says

    [1] Rudolfsdottir, Annadis. “The day the women went on strike.” The Guardian, October 15th, 2005.
    [2] Eurostat, “Gender pay gap statistics.”
    [4] J.E. Johnson, “The Most Feminist Place in the World.” The Nation, February 21st 2011.
    [5] Jesse Colombo, “Japan’s Bubble Economy of the 1980s“. June 4th, 2012.
    [6] A. Harney, “The Herbivore’s Dilemma.” Slate, June 15th, 2009.

  5. says

    Another aspect of the wasted human resources: the one that happens when you think its fine to push out all the people who aren’t “tough enough.” I got into a bit of a back-and-forth at Pandragon over The Shirt. My opposite in the discussion insisted that any True Scientist wouldn’t be really bothered and pointed to Jane Goodall as someone who surely is to tough to care about that sort of thing. I tried to get an explanation of why that thickskinnedness and badassness are correlated with scientific talent any more than, say, the ability to do a one-armed pushup is. Apparently, it’s just self-evident that “mental toughness” is a prerequisite for being a good scientist. Right.

  6. says

    Seriously. That’s been a theme of mine at least since Paula Kirby’s “Sisterhood of the Oppressed.” Encouraging people to be strong and confident and all the rest of it is fine, but brushing off systematic inequalities on the grounds that people should be tough is the very opposite of fine. Insisting that non-privileged groups have to put up with systematic inequalities as a condition of participation and success is bullshit.


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