equal opportunities

The Patriarchy Paradox – not quite what you might expect

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Feminists and equal opportunity campaigners will be disappointed to read the latest research which suggests that the more gender equality there is in a country, the more people revert to gender stereotypes and think differently.

A survey of 130,000 people from 22 countries by scientists from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that the more women there are in the workforce, parliament and education, the more they differ and diverge on psychological traits.

This counter-intuitive finding has been has been replicated so it’s worth considering – even if no-one really understands why!

Other research published by Plos One found that in countries ranked less equal in gender by the World Economic Forum, women were more likely to choose traditional male courses such as sciences.

Erik Mac Giolla, the lead researcher at Gothenburg, said if anything the research found bigger differences than previously. Measuring personality using the well-established “Big 5″ model OCEAN i.e. Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism, women typically scored higher on all of them although there is always an overlap with men’s scores on those factors.

For example in China, which scores low on gender parity, the personality overlap between the sexes is as high as 84%. In the Netherlands on the other hand, one of the world’s most gender-equal societies, it is 61%.

“It seems that as gender equality increases, as countries become more progressive, men and women gravitate towards traditional gender norms. Why? I don’t really know” said Giolla.

Steve Stewart-Williams at the University of Nottingham says this effect is also seen in other ways, not just personality. “The same counter-intuitive patterns have been found in many other areas, including attachment styles, choice of academic speciality, choice of occupation, crying frequency, depression, happiness, and interest in casual sex

“It’s definitely a challenge to one prominent stream of feminist theory, according to which all differences between the sexes come from cultural training and social roles”.

He thinks that those living in wealthier and more gender-equal societies have more freedom to pursue their own interest and behave more individually, which would magnify natural differences.

He also believes we should stop thinking of sex differences in society as being automatically a product of oppression. They could actually be a sign of the living in a fair and free society.

To sum up you might think it’s reasonable for people brought up in cultures where men and women are treated differently and have different opportunities that they will end up a lot more different than they would in cultures where they are treated more equally.

However the opposite seems to be true. Treating mean and women differently makes them more the same and treating them the same makes them more different.

So perhaps once women have achieved parity with men in their chosen careers etc they then relax and revert to type?

That would explain the Queen Bee phenomenon.

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Will name-blind hiring work?

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business_people_line_door_1600_wht_9932David Cameron seems keen to introduce it for recruitment to the civil service, the BBC and leading private companies in order to reduce discrimination against candidates with ethnic minority backgrounds.

This is because research suggests that there is bias against non-white names. Cameron cited the example of a graduate called Jorden Berkeley who couldn’t get an interview until she used her middle name Elizabeth. Well for a start all graduates have to make many applications before they get an interview – unless they’re well-connected of course.

Secondly, to me her first name doesn’t seem a non-white name just one of those modern, sometimes made-up, names we see proliferating such as Jadon, Rafferty, Dexter, Barlow, Chase and Galore, to name but a few and not including compound names . In some cases the name doesn’t even give you a clue as to the person’s gender. I wouldn’t have known whether Jorden was male or female for example. (Is there any research into bias against non-traditional names?)

And removing the name alone is only part of the problem with applications. What about the district you live in, the school and college you went to? Your hobbies and interests? All potential clues to your ethnicity. (And we won’t even mention your Facebook page!)

And what about other biases, for example against age?. We’re all living longer yet the research suggests that over-50s get a raw deal applying for jobs.

Cameron’s promise to “finish the fight for real equality” follows moves to get more women on FTSE100 boards – despite evidence that it doesn’t necessarily improve a company’s performance and leads to the “Golden skirt” phenomenon – and more transparency about pay.

It all seems a bit of a PC “tick a box” to me. After all they’re not going to require applications for top jobs to be hired on a name-blind basis. Where does he think the bias starts?