Over the Lucky Dice’s finest bacon and eggs on Saturday, Chris and I got talking about equitable pay in the workplace. Our chat wandered into the idea that men’s competitive approach to life had some influnce on why men earn more and hold more high-ranking positions. And today I found this article in the Globe, looking at a new book that concludes most men are hardwired to compete for supremacy in the workplace while women are not. Most women want a balanced life of work, family, friends and community because their biology has evolved this way.
The author is quick to point out that â€œscience tells us nothing about the individual,â€ but it’s an interesting article all the same.
From Monday’s Globe and Mail
March 10, 2008 at 2:38 AM EDT
â€˜I thought I was writing a book about developmental psychology. I never considered a book about the gender wars,â€ Susan Pinker says.
The sigh she offers at the close of that statement is understandable, because the publication of The Sexual Paradox: Extreme Men, Gifted Women and the Real Gender Gap, her first book, has placed her squarely in the middle of the continuing cultural fray about why there aren’t more women in the chief executive officer’s chair.
Weaving it together with personal reflections on her life as a psychologist and mother, she sets out a carefully researched scientific discussion of how the brains of men and women are differently hardwired and influenced by their soup of hormones. The conclusion? Most men are hardwired to compete for supremacy in the workplace. Women are not. Most want a balanced life of work, family, friends and community because their biology has evolved that way.
Her exasperation, unprovoked, hints at the controversy she has encountered.
â€œI will say that it irritates me when people think that my message is that women should go home and stay in the kitchen, and that biology says they have to. That is a complete misunderstanding,â€ she says, acknowledging that many people have had that reaction.
â€œWhen you view it as a polemic, then that might be the response, because biology has been used in the past to hold women down.â€
She is careful to point out that she does not speak for all women. She is talking about general tendencies. â€œScience tells us nothing about the individual,â€ she notes.
For as many Hillary Clintons there are in the world, gunning for the highest office, there are others like Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who made the surprising announcement on Friday that she is stepping down from her job after only one term to spend more time with her family.
Still, Dr. Pinker’s book points out a difficult and, for some women, painful reality. The feminist movement that encouraged women to be like men may have been necessary, she says â€“ â€œwe needed that view in the beginning when we entered the work forceâ€ â€“ but it was uninformed about what makes women different, which, ultimately, has compelled many to opt out of top jobs even though they pursued education that qualified them to take them. â€œThe expectation that we will be clones of men is holding us back,â€ she states.
She also found that the focus on working like a man made many women feel that they wasted some of their best years and, in some cases, forced them to put off motherhood until it was too late. Would she say that a generation of women sacrificed their lives as a result of that feminist ideology?
â€œI think that unintentionally that was one effect,â€ she allows. â€œAnd I think there is an awful lot of psychic pain that was the result, where women felt that their feelings were not valid, that something was wrong with them if they didn’t follow the male model.â€
The book confirms what many, including Dr. Pinker, have observed anecdotally.
Young boys often struggle in school, yet many go on to high-powered careers. Consider, for example, Richard Branson, the billionaire entrepre- neur who didn’t complete high school.
In fact, what prompted Dr. Pinker to write the book was seeing, in the span of one week, three newspaper profiles of a successful young man who had been a patient of hers, suffering from a variety of behavioural and learning problems, when he was 7.
â€œHe had become a designer of some renown, and I thought, â€˜There is something going on here. I wouldn’t have predicted that outcome. There has to be some biological thread.’â€
Many girls, meanwhile, excel in school and acquire fancy graduate degrees, only to withdraw later from the fierce competition for money and status and lead what she calls a â€œmore modulated and moderated life.â€
Dr. Pinker found that â€œwomen who had choices were crafting these really interesting lives that made room for their aging parents, for their interests, for their friends, for their careers and for their children, and they weren’t going to make those kind of Draconian adjustments that men were willing to make.â€
Research she cites in the book shows that â€œabout 60 per cent of gifted women turn down promotions or take positions with lower pay so as to weave flexibility or a social purpose into their work lives.â€
The glass ceiling, she points out, is largely self-imposed. Biology makes most women more inclined to work with people and to want to see a positive outcome of their work in the community â€“ jobs that may not be available in the corner office.
â€œThey are less satisfied about selling widgets in Hong Kong and never seeing them, or about watching the market rise and fall and not knowing what their role is. They want to feel their work has some social context. Even without children in the picture, women still leave certain careers more often than men do.â€
All the â€œvictim feministsâ€ have been wasting their breath. â€œIn Western society, I really don’t think that outside forces are controlling us against our will,â€ she states unequivocally. â€œAnd that is much of the message that women have been hearing, certainly in gender studies courses.â€
What is admirable is that Dr. Pinker, who writes a column about ethical and interpersonal issues in the workplace for this newspaper, tiptoes carefully through the minefield of gender discussions. She does not use negative language to describe this feminine approach to work. Rather than having a softer or weaker ambition, they have what she calls â€œa considered perspective that contributes to their happiness.â€
Not only that, she believes the â€œvanilla gender ideaâ€ â€“ her term for the standard-issue definition of male success â€“ hurts men too. In fact, it often kills them, she points out, citing longevity statistics for men compared with women.
What women contribute to society, in their pursuit of people-involved and empathetic work, is valuable and indispensable, she argues.
And that is where the patriarchy is to blame â€“ it set up the work world in which traditionally male pursuits were more highly compensated than female ones.
â€œI hope that my book will open up that debate,â€ she says.
â€œIf you want men and women to earn the same, then you have to start paying the same salary to social workers that you do to building contractors.â€
Her book is creating a stir, but Dr. Pinker is calm and measured, protecting herself in the guise of a scientist who can say that she is only reporting what she found, not offering a prescription for anyone.
â€œIt’s a mistake to be afraid to look at science because of political ideology,â€ she says from her chair across a table slick as a laboratory counter.
â€œThis book is what I see is happening in science, and that’s separate from how I think the world should be. I call that the is-ought gap. I’m looking at what is. I’m not really saying what ought to be.â€