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Why Is Gender Inequality So Widespread?
- January 29, 2021
- CBR - Economics
Addressing gender inequality around the world requires understanding the scope of the problem and the nature of its roots, its effects on women and society, and potential short- and long-term solutions. In an event hosted by Chicago Booth’s Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation and Harry L. Davis Center for Leadership, Chicago Booth’s Marianne Bertrand spoke with Linda Scott of Oxford, author of The Double X Economy, about why such inequality is a global phenomenon, what it has meant for women, and where we can go from here.
Bertrand: Linda, let’s start with the title of the book, The Double X Economy. What is that? What are we talking about?
Scott: That’s a good first question, Marianne. Because it is a new term and it is sort of an abstract concept. So it’s easiest for me to tell it a little bit as my journey of getting to that concept. It began years ago when I started doing research on women’s economic empowerment in remote villages among poor women in distressed nations. I was trying to help them achieve economic autonomy largely as a way to lift them out of poverty.
What I found was kind of amazing. As I began to increase the scope of my research and go from place to place, I was seeing the same thing over and over again: the same inequalities, the same exclusions, the same mechanisms holding those exclusions in place—and that really shouldn’t have been happening, because gender we’ve understood as something that was culture specific. But at the same time, I had done a lot of work on women’s history, and so I knew that some of the stuff I was seeing actually had been in place until a relatively recent moment in the Western nations and in the developed nations as well.
Plus, since I was teaching in a business school and was in touch with fairly elite women, either through executive ed or MBA [programs] or whatever, I was actually seeing the vestiges of those exclusions in my day-to-day life. About the same time I was working on this, large international data sets were becoming available through institutions such as the World Bank. They were showing in a quantitative, macro picture that actually gender inequality was, particularly in the economy, indeed present in every nation. It did show the same pattern and it was due to the same exclusions, and it was something that did a lot of damage. I should also say that the exclusions covered the entire economy.
Very early, we could see that it was a destructive phenomenon. I say ‘we’ because there were, by that time, many people studying this besides me. The Double X Economy is not a book about employment; this is not a book about advancing up the corporate ladder, even though those things are in the book. It’s about the full, 360-degree exclusion of women in the economy. That is what the Double X Economy is.
Bertrand: One thing that’s remarkable about the book is that, as you just said, it takes us through rural places in Africa. It takes us to developed economies. Can you tell us a bit more about the similarities that you see in the Double X Economy across these different parts of the world? What are the key themes? What are the key forces that you’ve said you see at play?
Scott: One of the illustrations that shows this the best—that people usually are really struck by and don’t know about yet because it’s fairly new data—is that if you plot the percentage of land owned in every country for which we have data, a little over 100 countries, what you see is that men control more than 80 percent of the earth’s surface, and women control less than 20 percent. There’s some variation among nations, but for the most part, that’s where it ends up. The Western nations actually are a bit lower than the average.
This traces fairly easily to a long history around the world of forbidding women to own property, usually by law. In fact, the first law that I found was the oldest known law, the Code of Ur-Nammu, which dates to 2000 BC. This is the kind of thing—because once you don’t have real property, you don’t have any way of acquiring and growing capital or getting access to productive inputs—that does tend to roll up into what we see today, which is that men control probably about 80 percent of the world’s capital. So it’s something that has long legs and it’s something that has a stark pattern.
The pattern, honestly, is so stark that I often say you could see it from space. On the ground, you see it whether you’re looking at rural Africa or at the top business schools in the United States. What you see is that it’s held in place by, first of all, more than anything else, the bad behavior—usually some kind of violence—of the men in any particular community. It’s also something that often takes expression through expectations about women’s roles, particularly in marriage—sometimes child-rearing, but usually in marriage. It’s the idea that women should stay home and stay utterly economically dependent on whomever the man is in their life. That keeps them from engaging in the economy, and it also makes them vulnerable. So that’s the kind of thing I would say.
Bertrand: When I read your book, you remind me of what I’ve been reading some over the last few months, which is critical race theory. A lot of the mechanisms that you described have to do with systemic things that are holding women back. Do you want to go ahead with this parallelism? Could you have written a similar book about race, or do you think about racial oppression in a different way than you would think about women’s oppression around the world?
Scott: Yeah, I have thought a lot about that. Not least because I grew up in the [American] South during the civil rights movement. So I kind of do reality checks, and I say to myself, “OK, this has been said to a woman. If you said it to an African American, would it sound bigoted?” And if the answer is yes, it should sound bigoted when aimed at a woman too. And that is often not the case. It’s because we have learned over time to trivialize women so much and to think of their equality as being a nice-to-have, rather than a must-have that we’ve come to accept things like saying that their brains are inferior—which you would never say now about an African American. It would be so awful.
So I did feel eventually that it was important to recognize that these are two different forms, different systems. One of the differences is that the gender system is global, whereas racial discrimination tends to be intensely and, tragically, historically location specific. It’s very hard to compare racism from one country to another, in my view.
The thing that is very, very different, but it’s often treated as if it were similar or parallel, or that the two are part of each other, is the class system. A lot of it is because with women, the origin is really in the family, and so the people that you’re jostling up against, in terms of trying to gain equality, initially are in your own home and not outside.
Bertrand: Chapter four of the book talks about some of the arguments that are often made as to, “This is the way things are. There’s a good reason as to why men are dominant.” And what I like about this chapter is that it talks a lot about nature and biology. Can you take us through some of these arguments that you have heard and your responses to them? So maybe we’re going to talk about chimpanzees and bonobos to start.
Scott: To start.
Bertrand: Then we can talk about the brain.
Scott: Particularly because what I had was a global phenomenon and it had been pretty consistent over time, I felt that it did raise the question, is this natural? Or the other alternative explanation seemed to be that it’s historical, but it’s a very old history. And the answer ended up being more about a really tragic entanglement between the two, history and nature, and our natural evolution. But yeah, I approached it as [challenging] every knee jerk thing that had ever been said to me, or I had ever heard said about why women are naturally subordinate and should be subordinate, and about how it would be terribly detrimental to the species if they did not maintain their subordination.
The first one that I looked at is that often people say, “Well, in nature, in the animal kingdom, males are dominant in nearly all species.” And actually that’s true. But for humans, what you need to do is look at the two species that are nearest to us, because that’s the only way you can get at what our original animal ancestor was. And it’s important to recognize that we don’t know anything about that original ancestor, but we actually have two primates that are equally close to us in genetic terms—many people are not aware of that because one of them, called bonobos, has only been recently sequenced as another species. So we’re comparing ourselves to chimpanzees, which are really aggressively patriarchal and warlike. The mothers stay apart from the rest of the tribe when they raise their children, and all of this. Well, we are equally related to bonobos, and the bonobos are actually female dominant. They’re peace loving almost to an extreme, and they share the care of their children.
They also have sex for pleasure, for example, and form affectionate bonds between sexes and also with the same sex, which is something chimpanzees don’t do. And their brain structure is in many ways the same as ours, though it has a different kind of a roadway for emotions in their brains. The other thing to recognize is not only do chimpanzees and bonobos have the same genetic relationship to us, but they also are almost identical to each other genetically. And so there’s really no way to say at this point which of them we are closest to, speaking in terms of evolution, and therefore which of these male- or female-dominant types we originally were. There’s just no way to say.
It’s implausible to me that women in every part of the world and in every industry and every occupation and every time in history would have chosen to be economically subordinate.
Bertrand: Is there any, it’s been a long time since I’ve read this literature, is there any research that tells us why the chimpanzees went one way and the bonobos went another way? The terrain, where they live, the weather, or whatever we search a group for . . .
Scott: The irony of this is that they both live in the Great Rift Valley in Africa, and they live on opposite sides of the same river. So there’s no environmental thing that should have been conducive to these differences. In present times, scientists believe that what makes female bonobos more dominant is that among these animals, females go to another troop to mate—and that’s the same with humans, by the way, and that usually makes the females weaker because they don’t have solidarity-of-kinship ties already, and so the males can dominate them. What bonobos do—and to my knowledge, the scientists are still saying they’re the only primate to do this—is the females come in and establish intimate bonds with the other females immediately, including having sex with them—in fact, especially having sex with them—and this allows them to form a collective by which they stand up to the men. So it’s the formation of a sisterhood, basically.
With the case of chimpanzees, we can’t really tell, in my view, whether this is the way they hit the earth. There’s some evidence—I go over this in the book—that they have become violent and maybe patriarchal over time. I base that largely on a group that has been observed since 1995 in Kibale Park [in Western Uganda] that appears to have evolved to be bigger and even more warlike and territorial than ordinary chimps, and they are taking over, and in particular they’re taking over the females. So eventually they will be the gene pool and they will take over the environment. So you can see how that would have happened, that they would become more and more violent over time. And this is what I suggest in the book happened to humans too.
Bertrand: This is fascinating. Another line of argument that is also related to biology is with regard to how our brains are wired. You have a whole chapter, I think it’s called “Brain Bigots,” that talks about differences between the male brain and the female brain. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve learned by reading this work and what the frontier is in terms of the research that documents systematic differences, if any, between the genders and the way our brains function?
Scott: For a long time in neuroscience, it was common wisdom that there was a fundamental difference of some sort that nobody could really identify, neither what it was nor what the origin of it was in terms of child development, but there were theories that didn’t pan out. Although those theories still float around on social media, it’s important to know that not every scientific period pans out. One of the things that caused neuroscientists to rethink this was growing performance data that showed women closing the gap in math between themselves and men as they gained access to higher math classes. All right, so it was educational exclusion and apparently not the difference in their brains. We also are seeing . . . for example, one of the most powerful studies was where they correlated math performance in tests against the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index—
Bertrand: That was my colleague Luigi Zingales’s work.
Scott: There you go. And it was really powerful and has made a big difference because what it shows, basically, is that math performance among women goes up when gender equality goes up, and goes down when it goes down. The fact that it is culturally sensitive, the fact that it can change over time, and the fact that it’s different around the world all tell you it cannot be biologically hardwired. It can’t.
So then the other thing that has happened is that there’s been a massive paradigm shift in neuroscience. They say that you only have, I think it’s 6,000 genes present at birth in order to form the synapses of the brain that you will need to function as an adult. That’s only 10 percent of what you’re eventually going to need. Less than 10 percent. And so everything else is a function of learning. That would certainly include higher functions such as mathematics and finance and things like that.
The connectome is what they call the map of all those synapses, those connections that eventually form in your brain. And although there’s no real data on this—well, there’s performance data, but not necessarily neuroscientific data—it looks like what happens is that first of all, men and women overall on just about everything are more similar than they are different.
But then also what happens is that the connectome changes depending on what the individual is exposed to. So since we expose girls to different things than we expose boys to, it would be predictable on a macro level, that the connectomes would be different. But there’s so much variation that they’re quick to say, you cannot assume when you go to hire a professor, for example, that because one candidate is a female, she’s going to be less good at math. That’s just not a reasonable assumption.
Bertrand: The reading of this work on that is essentially the gender similarity hypothesis. I agree with you. It seems to suggest that the within-gender differences are overwhelmingly much larger than the differences between the genders on all the kinds of traits that we study. And that’s really the important takeaway of this situation. There are still a few exceptions. So empathy, caring, these are some dimensions where many men . . .
If they are being caring—and that’s an important line, because a lot of the things that have to do with the Double X Economy are just the woman operating in the home economy rather than with other people. That’s what I’ve been hearing happens. The other dimension that we still find systematic differences between the genders—again, a kind of environment where the between-gender differences are largely compared to within-gender differences—is with regard to aggressivity, and that’s more the male traits.
You don’t talk as much about this in the book. Is it because you don’t think it’s relevant to the conversation? I agree with your conclusion on the math front. The research is clear, but these are still important traits. So why not talk more about it? You don’t think it’s relevant to the argument? What do you think?
Scott: Mostly it was because of the structure that I was going with of saying “Here’s the objection that gets thrown out and here’s the answer to that objection.” I did not deal with questions like empathy, but I was aware that that’s what the research showed. Some of the limitation was this is meant to be a book for the public. When I turned in my first version, it was really long, and I went down all these rabbit holes trying to explain the different views in each discipline. They just said, “No, Linda. Nobody wants to read that.” So some of the obvious, what seems like obvious omissions are because of that. But in that case, what I would theorize is that this business that psychologists are now calling toxic masculinity, and have identified as a disorder, is something that has built up over time.
And part of it is that the enculturation is meant to quash empathy in men. It is meant to do that because the worst part for men about the patriarchy, of which the Double X Economy is born, is that they were coerced into fighting. Fighting, and torturing and conquering and enslaving by the patriarchs. There’s no way to coerce them into doing that unless you quash their emotions. I had come to have much more respect for how painful that must have been because, as I said before, if there’s one thing we are literally wired for, it’s empathy.
Bertrand: That’s an interesting dimension, and there’s some really nice research that documents that there are systematic differences between the genders on these measures of, let’s say, empathy, but that’s the area where the stereotypes are particularly wrong. The research shows, and I’ve talked to some of my colleagues, Nick Epley, as we do some of this work, that indeed women are more empathetic than men, but they are expected to be even more empathetic than they really are. And that becomes really important because that changes our behavior. We are expected to be nice and kind more than we really are. So this is important work.
Scott: Let me interject. I think that’s really true, but it’s given me a new respect for how much the scientists in archeology and evolution and everything keep emphasizing that one of the things to take away is how malleable we are; in neuroscience, that the connectome is very, very malleable. And so that if there’s a difference between men and women, ultimately, on empathy, it could be just, as you say, that over time, the malleability of empathy has happened in women, but it could eventually happen in men. That in other words, it’s not necessarily inborn.
Bertrand: On the other hand, I could flip that around and say that yes, things are malleable, but then you go back to where your book started, which is that the entire world looks the same. You can’t find a country in the world where we flipped the dynamic and women are empowered and men are behind. To me, that raises some limit to this point about malleability.
Scott: I wish I had made more of a point of this because I can see, based on what I said about bonobos, that people might take away that I think female dominance is better. But it’s the phenomenon of dominance and not maleness or femaleness that causes the problem. I would not expect female dominance to be better, although we sentimentalize that and act like it would be. I do think in the short run, it’s clear that integrating women into things like decisions in peace negotiations is a good thing. To some degree, it is because of that empathy and that kind of thing. In the long run, I’m not at all convinced that that would remain the case.
Bertrand: Let me switch gears a little bit because the book also talks a lot about economics, and Chicago-style economics in particular, and extreme believers in the power of the markets. Can you position that in the book? I understood part of the discussion was about how difficult it is to be a female faculty member surrounded by a bunch of hard-core economists. So maybe you wanna tell us a little bit about that and your experience. But there was also another part of the argument that this extreme free-market kind of doctrine was also part of the problem and was part of what was holding women’s empowerment back. Can you take us through both of these branches?
Scott: When I was invited to do this talk, I sort of chuckled to myself because of it being that Chicago school of economics, and also because of the business school having been, at least in the past, loaded toward males. And so I thought, “Oh, wow, this should be interesting.” And there’s a couple of things. You can look at the ground level. In one chapter, I talk about the way the past behavior of economics departments—and still, to a larger degree, the present behavior—has heightened impact on finance faculty members. The male dominance adds to this, what I call the band-of-brothers phenomenon, where in extremely male dominant organizations you’ll have a group at the top who more or less become autocrats. One of the ways this plays out whenever you see this phenomenon—that is, typically, not just in business schools—is a disdain for women along with a lot of the mythology about why women deserve to be subordinate.
What happens there then is that what I call “extreme market economics”—which is what my respondents called it; it was not a name that I coined—was being used to justify this behavior. It was saying, “Well, the reason women are not present is they either choose not to be, or they’re not good enough to be. And therefore we should not intervene because when the market is ready, the market will deposit them on our doorstep.” And I just thought that was pretty ridiculous. Now on the macro side, I do feel—and some of this I’ve always felt, to be perfectly honest—that the basic theory of economics as we know it is pretty self-serving. It’s a pretty “might is right” philosophy.
But the basic tenets of [this theory] don’t match the Double X Economy in that it’s all based on the notion that you have individuals that act freely and with full information and rationally and in their own self-interest. The problem is that women all over the world have not been able to act on their own volition. They have been coerced into making decisions that are not in their own best interests. And often, if not most of the time, key information is actively withheld from them. Well, if that’s the case and that’s a systemic factor—which, I don’t think we can call it anything but a systemic factor given how prevalent it is and how women are after all 51 percent of the planet—this theory needs to be rethought.
It needs to be rethought anyway, because of the poor and because of racism and things like that. But when you’re talking about half the species, that really begs a question. I often say economics fancies itself a science, or has aspirations to be a science, but in science, you take your theory and you look at the real world. You make observations that are empirical, and then you alter the theory as you learn.
But instead, in economics, it seems like they’ve adopted blinkers and they just say, “We’re not going to look at women because that doesn’t match.” That’s my feeling. I ended up getting involved on a global level in policy and with big organizations, and I’ve found that I ran into this a lot of the time among economists who had this, well, old-fashioned view of economics, really, at this point. They were very aggressive. In fact, I would even say they’re a little bit belligerent some of the time. Lately I’ve been doing quite a bit of work for the World Bank. Just this morning, I was in a conversation with their gender team, and they are terrific, but they’re constantly having to anticipate this argument.
Bertrand: Can you say a bit more about what’s missing from the models? Just take us through that. The first part, I totally understand: the reaction that you get, and I do research on gender, so I’ve had this reaction too, a million times. “Women are behind because they make different choices, but all is good.” Can you tell us a bit more about the constraints on women’s decisions that are missing from the models that these extreme pro-market people are using? Let’s call them my colleagues.
Scott: For example, it’s frequent. I run into this a lot with people who haven’t worked in this field, because you don’t have to work in the field very long to know better. They’ll say, “Well, the reason women-owned businesses don’t grow is that they don’t like growth,” and then, when it is clearly shown that the reason they don’t grow is they don’t have access to capital, the argument becomes, “Well, this is their own fault. They’re incompetent or stupid or something and haven’t acquired capital.”
Capital control is an objective measure that, for example, banks use to decide who gets capital. Well, in fact, as I told you, women have been forbidden to have control over capital for thousands of years, and that’s only changed recently. Once you know that, to be saying it is an objective criterion and they have chosen not to have capital starts to ring pretty hollow. There are lots of things like that, where if you look at the fact that there is a big structural obstruction, it becomes difficult to accept that this is actually a choice. It’s implausible to me that women in every part of the world and in every industry and every occupation and every time in history would have chosen to be economically subordinate. That, to me, is just not persuasive. And it’s especially not persuasive with this data.
Bertrand: I studied gender norms and I’m interested in understanding gender attitudes. You do work in developing countries where we are even more backward than we are in the US in terms of views on gender. What is striking about this data is that women’s views on where women belong are similar to men’s views as to where women belong. How do you think about that? I can give you an example. So you go to Saudi Arabia and you feel like, “Gosh, this is not right. We should give these women the right to drive and we should make sure that they can enter a job.” But women are not interested in that. How do you deal with that? Is it about choice?
Scott: I would say it’s more about totalized belief systems, and where some women see their best interest as being. Some women think, “Well, if I can’t earn a living, my best shot is to marry a rich man. And in order to do that, I’ve got to behave a certain way and do certain things.” It’s important to recognize that, for example, the world, including sometimes Christianity, has taught things like “women have no souls.” Women can’t achieve Nirvana. These kinds of beliefs are around us everywhere and tend to make us think that it’s our fault. I think that’s part of it.
Bertrand: You talked about the lack of access to capital as a factor, and how, if we free that up, we’ll see big improvement. The reason I’m asking this question is that I tend to believe that it is more complicated than that because a lot of women, especially in the most conservative parts of the world, have beliefs that are not consistent with them starting entrepreneurship if you give them access to capital. That’s where it becomes much harder for me to address those problems. It’s not just a matter of lifting some regulations or rules or changing inheritance law; it’s a more complicated process of changing norms.
Scott: That’s true to an extent. You have to admit, or I would argue that the data show that these beliefs are not held uniformly within cultures. For example, I have different ideas about gender than, obviously, [US senator] Mitch McConnell [(Republican of Kentucky)] has, and I would not want him representing my country on what good gender norms are. The same thing happens in other countries, where you will have a fairly large segment of the population at this point that believes gender equality is a good thing. There was a Pew [Research Center] study in, I think, 2017 where in 38 countries, the majority did not say, “Gender equality is important for my country.” There’s more variation than that, and we need to be careful about assuming that because some want it this way, all want it this way.
One of the things that we have found over and over and over again is that if you can do simple things like give women property rights, you will see a statistically significant difference as compared with a control. It’s usually randomized control trials and things like the diminishing of domestic violence. And you will see an increased education among girls. You will see that happen. It’s still gonna take a while—it might take another generation, for example—but it’s definitely a measurable increase in human welfare and well-being. We know at least some things that we can do. We have seen that they are effective. They’re not going to change it overnight. I was on a panel here recently where somebody said, “Tell us how we can change this by 2030,” and I said, “Are you kidding? Are you kidding?”
Bertrand: Let’s go down this path though. This is a critical moment for women throughout the world. With the pandemic, it’s likely that we’re going to be looking at going back decades in terms of the improvements that have been happening. The book is maybe not talking as much about the progress, but there’s been progress from all the world. But there’s no doubt that this moment is hurting women massively. What do we do concretely? And what we do concretely knowing that we don’t control things? We don’t control the Supreme Court, for example, in the United States of America. We don’t control lots of governments, where we have in charge people that may not have the same objective as you. What do we do?
Scott: This book went to press before the pandemic, but immediately when it appeared, of course, every reporter I talked to, every op-ed I was asked to write, wanted me to focus on the pandemic. And it took me a little while to get my head around what was happening. One of the things that was obvious immediately was that it was having the same effect around the world because the Double X Economy is the same around the world. Things like clustering in certain industries and therefore feeling an impact in those industries, more of that was happening everywhere. That, of course, happens in other recessions to men. But the thing that was the most striking was this business about childcare and the potential to roll back to, not just roll back Congress, but specifically to roll back to a position of economic dependency, which is a terrible thing for women and for societies. And pretty soon I was seeing there had been urgent calls from the United Nations and the World Economic Forum that this was happening.
I would say that, first of all, women need to recognize their power. They do have power they’re not using. And one of them, I talk about it in the book, is their consumer power. In some countries, for example, in the US, women produce about 40 percent of GDP. If you took the whole, all of the women’s economy, and made it another nation, they would be big enough to join the G7. This is power, and it should be. We should figure out how to use it, but we haven’t done that.
Bertrand: But how do we do that? The book has a suggestion about the 80 percent Christmas. Are you suggesting that we all coordinate a massive boycott?
Scott: Well, I do think it can be done. It’s amazing.
Bertrand: Tell me how we do that, Linda.
Scott: I call it the 80 percent Christmas, but it would also be the 80 percent Lunar New Year and the 80 percent Diwali. People often don’t realize or don’t want to think of consumption as something that’s power, but it is power, and on a slow day, women control about 75 percent of that in the developed countries. But in particular, holiday consumption is extremely important to the well-being of economies everywhere. It’s as important in India as it is here, for example. And so what I suggested was that we say, “Well, OK, this year, we’re only going to buy 80 percent. We’re only going to spend 80 percent of what we spent last year, and we’re going to keep doing it 80 percent of 80 percent of 80 percent until you close the gender pay gap, or whatever is the key issue in that country.” And that would absolutely get people to sit up and take notice. Now, the important thing is to figure out intro steps, because you’re not going to close the gender pay gap overnight.
You just can’t. It’s too big. But you could do something like, for example, [US] Congress has it within its power to put a stop to forced arbitration contracts, and that could even be done before Christmas. That is a big deal for women. There are things that can be done. As far as coordinating it worldwide, we saw that in January 2017. I’ve been getting emails from Europe lately—because the book is coming out in Europe now—saying, “OK, so when are we doing this 80 percent Christmas thing?” So that’s pretty good. I don’t know what the answer is.
Bertrand: We’re going to move to the Q&A soon, but any other ideas? The epilogue in the book talks about action steps. It seems that we’ve been calling for a lot of new commissions and groups, and there are a million of those, and nothing ever happens, so I was skeptical about that. Tell me more. What’s your idea you’re most excited about in terms of moving forward in progress?
Scott: Well, there are some individual things I really am enthused about, things like angel-investor groups that invest in women. There’s a lot that could be done with that. The book is a recruitment brochure as much as it is anything. And what I’m trying to do is to call people to join with this movement that I’ve been involved with for 15 years or so. And it is a movement, and it involves major world institutions, including multinational corporations that do have the wherewithal to make this happen.
More than anything, we need more public awareness and more pressure on governments. That’s something individuals can help with, if only by raising public awareness. I really think we can do this. Maybe for the first time in history, we have the chance to do this. I worry that the window is closing because of right-wing uprisings, but I would not have written this book if I didn’t think we could do it, because I don’t think the world needs another rant about women’s suffering. I just don’t think we need another one if it doesn’t offer some solutions.
Bertrand: Good. We’ve reached the time to get the Q&A going, so I’m going to let Salma pop back in the conversation. Hey, Salma.
Salma Nassar: Hello. Thank you for such an engaging conversation. Our audience has been engaged as well and has been submitting questions for you both.
This question’s for you, Linda, but Marianne, feel free to weigh in. What relationship do you think there is between global gender inequality and the legacy of colonialism, the role that colonialism has played in defining strict gender roles? Do you think that’s left its mark on the entire world, that we might be seeing more variety in gender norms and lower levels of inequality in some cultures had it not been for colonialism?
Scott: There are two answers. There are some specific things that you can see, such as married women’s property rights that you can trace from the European countries to their colonies. However, it’s important to know that in those destinations, in those colonies, the women didn’t have property rights anyway. It was a matter of that particular law showing up in a more formal statute.
One of the things we’ve done in the past is to assume somehow that people in those places are better than we are, and they somehow don’t have these problems. When the colonial powers come in, they do make some changes, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. But the essence of patriarchy doesn’t change, just like capitalism doesn’t change it and socialism doesn’t change it. Patriarchy is much bigger and much more entrenched than that. This is not to say that colonialism wasn’t devastating. I’ve spent a lot of years in Africa and South Asia, and it was devastating.
Nassar: Thanks. You talk a lot about data in your book, Linda, and Marianne, the use of data is essential to your research as well. What role and responsibility do you think employers have with using their data to better understand issues related to gender equity within the workplace?
Scott: Let me make sure I’m understanding the question. What responsibility do employers have to use their data to inspire gender equality in the workplace? Most places right now, they don’t have any responsibilities as such. In Britain, for the first time in 2018, by law any company that had more than 250 employees had to publish their pay data, and the outcome was utterly shocking. I mean, it was a real come-to-Jesus moment. If employers shared that information . . . but of course they’re not going to do it if they’re not forced to. And if they’re not told how to represent it, they’re going to hide it. It’s been my opinion, or my experience, my observation, that even within organizations where the men and the women suspect that the women are not being paid equally, there’s a wall across it where nobody asks and nobody wants to look because once you look, if you’re in management and you look, then you know. At that point, you have a responsibility to step forward. Nobody wants to know because then you get sued. So that’s my answer to that.
Bertrand: I do believe that pay transparency would be a really good thing. And just like Linda, I agree that we’re not going to get it unless we mandate it. I’m skeptical that it will be the revolution that we expect in terms of changing things, because I tend to believe that it’s the roots of what’s happening with women, and not so much in standard discrimination, but I don’t see how it would hurt.
We are starting to get some evidence from research. Denmark, for example, also had a pay transparency law put in place before the United Kingdom. But it was different. It was not a shaming of a company like they did in the UK, where every company had to publish information. The requirement was, in Denmark, for the companies to make the pay data accessible to their employees. It remained fully internal, but there’s some evidence that it actually helped to close the gender gap somewhat, mainly by slowing down the raises of the men at the companies where the big gap was large. I see absolutely nothing wrong with mandating more pay transparency. It’s complicated to do, because you have to take into account occupational differences and all of that. But first order, yes, let’s do it.
Scott: Can I respond to what Marianne just said, because she’s absolutely right on. I do think it outs the phenomenon in a major way that gets people’s attention. But for example, in Britain, what has happened is they’ve now had, I think, two more rounds of it.
Bertrand: I think they are not doing it this year because of COVID-19.
Scott: And maybe it’s because of the pandemic and maybe it’s not. But anyway, because this law has been on the books since 2010 and they only did it in 2018. They thought shame was going to do it for them, that the companies were going to be so ashamed that they were going to change. That is not borne out by the data. To some degree, when you let it be known that everybody’s doing it, there’s no shame.
If we’re all showing up to Zoom meetings with wet hair, there’s no shame in it anymore, right? So that becomes a problem. The other thing, and I talk about this at some length in the book, is that what it shows at that point is the responsibility of the government to stand up, and stand up for half their citizenry, which the British government absolutely has not done.
Nassar: Thank you. I also want to touch on a conversation you had earlier today about the role of Milton Friedman and his idea that the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits. We’ve had a lot of conversations at Chicago Booth about this recently, given that it’s been 50 years since his letter in the New York Times. Linda, you call this the most irresponsible premise ever promoted by an economist. Can you share more of your thoughts? And, Marianne, feel free to weigh in.
Scott: I’m happy to. I remember that when I first went to Oxford, in one of the first meetings I was in, somebody threw up Milton Friedman as an example of why we should not pursue socially responsible business. And I was like, “I cannot even believe I’m hearing that name in this decade. In this century. This is just insane.” It’s like this guy was replaying the 45 rpm record. I am old enough to remember Milton Friedman. When I first went to business school, I took an economics class. One of the first things that we were taught was this business about “all that businesses need to do is to make a return for shareholders.” Well, they do need to make a return for shareholders, but none of us would work in a company where that’s all they care about. I mean, that’s just asking for all kinds of abuse.
He has this one piece that I used to make my students read about the yellow pencil. Some people will know this. It’s about how, if you’re not a good pencil, you don’t get bought or whatever. That’s all everybody’s fault. It’s everybody else’s fault except the person in charge. And then there’s this business about social responsibility. I have to tell you again, I brought up this business of being in business school in the 1970s because at that time, the environmental movement was really having a surge.
It was all about whether businesses have a responsibility not to dump chemicals in the water, not to put pollutants in the air. Well, of course, now we think it’s outrageous that they would not be responsible for that, but that’s what Milton Friedman was used for. I would challenge everybody to go online and look at videos of Milton Friedman, because that was, in my opinion, one smug, jingoistic dude. And just because he had a Nobel prize does not mean he deserves our respect forever. Sorry.
Bertrand: It will be a long conversation to have about Milton Friedman. The only thing I would say on this is that if one stuck to “the only social responsibility of business is to make profit,” that would be highly consistent both with making sure that we’re not losing out on the talent of half of the economy, and with talented women being as able to run companies as men are. And you could be totally cool with that, even within the narrow frame of Friedman’s view of what business is all about.
Scott: That’s fair.
Nassar: So taking it more internal, Linda, you shared that you think issues with gender equality can start even in the home. One of our viewers is interested to know if you have thoughts on how we should be raising women and men today, to make sure that they grow up in a world that’s more equitable. Do you have any comments or thoughts on that?
Scott: It does have origins in the home, but it’s important that I go through this history in the book, to know that that relationship in the home has been evolving, particularly in the Western countries, to the point where a major breakthrough has resulted in a marriage and family ethic that is different even now from the rest of the world. It’s important to give that some credit. It’s also really important to recognize that most men’s attitudes have changed dramatically in the past 50 years about gender equality, even within the home. I don’t mean they pick up their own socks and mop the floors as much as they should, but they do do that stuff more than they did. And there’s a lot less stigma attached. And it is remarkable to me at this point that this survey so consistently showed that something like 70, 75 percent of men in those countries, and large numbers in developing countries as well, are on board with gender equality.
And it’s the hard nut to crack that’s left. This remaining 25 percent is standing in the way, in my view. So there’s a lot of progress. And we can keep doing some of what we’re doing. One of my friends at [USAID’s] Women’s Economic Empowerment, Josh Levs, wrote a book called All In, which is about gender equality for families in the workplace. His comment is, “After all, we were the Free to be You and Me generation,” which is a book that came out in the 1970s by Marlo Thomas. It was one of the first to say, let’s teach our children to be more gender equal. So it had an impact on him.
Nassar: You also advocate for collective power. What do you see as key obstacles to collective power? And how do you think about overcoming them?
Scott: I’m sorry. You mean collective power of women?
Nassar: The viewer spoke more generally about collective power, but I will interpret it to mean each individual’s role in society. What are obstacles to us each working together to achieve gender equality?
Scott: OK. The first step is that you have to recognize that this is a structural issue—there is a degree to which individuals can help their own circumstances, but recognize that we do share structural restraints and constraints and that those on the other side will tend to want to individualize it and say, “Well, it’s only you that has this problem.” It’s really key to lock arms on some of this stuff. It’s also really key to take collective action with men, and this is another thing that’s in my book. I’m not just saying that to make them feel good. They’re good allies, and we should make use of that.
We need to recognize—and it’s another point in the book—that it needs to be collective action with a gender lens. That’s why I asked you what kind of collective action. We need to have it be on behalf of women, and not have it be subordinated to other causes, because that’s what has happened to women throughout feminist history. And it tends to come back and slap us in the face.
Nassar: Well, we’re coming up on time. Any final things you wanted to share, or shall I wrap this up?
Bertrand: That was great. Thanks for taking the time, Linda. That was a lot of fun. Thank you for all the good questions and comments.
Nassar: Thank you both, Linda and Marianne. You’ve given us so much to think about. Thanks also to all of our sponsors and to our audience. If you enjoyed today’s conversation, we invite you to join the Rustandy Center for the next session in our Innovating Social Equity event series, which will examine how private-market investors and entrepreneurs may utilize innovative strategies to bring about meaningful change. You can learn more about the event and register to attend to any of our events on the Rustandy Center’s website. Thank you all, and good night.
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