The other day at dinner one of my daughters asked me if I saw myself as a feminist. Fight ensued.
It’s not that I’m against gender equality. On the contrary, as a father of four daughters, the husband of a seriously talented wife, and the friend and colleague of many accomplished women, I passionately advocate for equality.
Especially in IT.
Against the Machine
My reticence to label myself as a feminist, however, is largely due to the emotional framing of the word. Which is that: “Men discriminate against women, and this must be fought in every domain: Social, political, intellectual, religious, especially economic.”
It’s this militant aspect of feminism that I struggle with. The emotive lens that assumes every disparity is, if not deliberate, a systemic bigotry that devalues women.
Don’t get me wrong. I have seen, and until more conscious, have been complicit in, religious, political, social, and yes, economic systems that have done exactly that. But very early on in my life I chose to stand against bigotry. This only increased as I grew as a parent. Of women.
Where Is The Evidence?
But I’ll be honest, my current (admittedly male) experience is that by and large this systemic discrimination has changed. Not everywhere for sure. There are entire regions of the world where women are treated cruelly. Even in the west discrimination is not removed from every social situation. But by and large the disparity doesn’t seem to be because of a deliberate, or unconscious systemic discrimination.
My personal experience comes from a career in IT, consulting and managing in companies like HP and Microsoft. In countries from South Africa, to the UK, USA, South-East Asia, and Australia.
In most management teams I’ve worked in we were very careful to ensure pay, conditions, and recruitment criteria did not bias against gender, age, ethnicity, religion, family situation etc. Performance is rated on merit. And throughout my entire career in IT I have worked alongside, and been subordinate to fantastic women peers and bosses. Back in 1988, at the academy where I learnt to program 49% of the students, and 7 of the top 10, were women.
But that there is a disparity is undeniable.
So what gives?
Women have less representation, are in fewer leadership roles, have a lower average salary, and less average superannuation (pension). How can this be if they are not discriminated against?
First, I’ll let Freakonomics Radio and Claudia Goldin, Professor Economics at Harvard, a previous president of the American Economics Association, and one of the preeminent researchers on the topic answer. Please listen to the entire episode, it is very illuminating.
This doesn’t fully answer the question though. Or at least it shifts the focus. Mostly, in modern western democracies, women are not deliberately or systemically discriminated against. At least in the workplace. The salary & consequent super, disparity needs to be considered against other currencies including adoption of risk, & lifestyle choices like flexibility.
Does this let men ‘off the hook?’ Well yes, and er, no.
Whilst there are still masogynists, gender pay gaps are far more nuanced and complicated. They are influenced at least by women’s choices as any other factor.
Why are women making those choices? Do they have to? Is this the result of a more insidious reason: Cultural socialisation?
I don’t agree with everything Reshma claims in her talk, but I do believe that as a society, we, men and women, parents, teachers, uncles & aunts, peers and managers, socialise gender stereotypes that lead to identities, beliefs, values, and choices.
Teaching (anyone) girls to code is a very good thing. I would argue imperative for continued economic success.
Teaching (anyone) girls bravery, even better.
So Am I a Feminist?
Yes. I am a non-militant, pacifist, advocate for the equal respect and nurture of all humans regardless of gender.
My greatest wish for all four of my daughters is that they will recognise the greatness within them. They would take ownership, and not be a victim to the universe. That they will change the world according to their purpose.