Jessica Kennedy and Laura Kray, working out at UCLA Berkeley, are concerned about the underrepresentation of women in business schools and across corporate boardrooms in the US. This is a “problem” that must be “fixed”. Women don’t particularly want to be in biz school or stuck in a boardroom? Men would much rather be there? Too bad.
We need equality, folks! And the only acceptable definition of that term is girl-drones and boy-drones doing the EXACT SAME SHIT AT ALL TIMES EVERYWHERE. Your personal interests or inclinations are irrelevant. You will be assimilated.
Ok, all snarkiness aside, there IS a gender disparity in business, both schools and practice, and whether that is a problem that needs fixing or not, it’s always interesting to explore the reasons behind such disparities. So here is the hypothesis Jessica and Laura were testing:
Women don’t like business because they associate business with immorality and that’s unacceptable to their superior lady ethics.
Only when jobs involved making ethical compromises did women report less interest in the jobs than men. Women’s moral reservations mediated these effects. In Study 3, we found that women implicitly associated business with immorality more than men did.
Let’s start with the basic assumptions underlying the whole study:
Business = immoral
Men = business
Men = immoral
Or, in the alternate:
Women = moral
Woman ≠ business
Business ≠ moral
Either way, we begin with the assumption that WOMEN ARE MORE MORAL than men, and that this morality shows up in their reluctance to dirty their pretty little hands with the ickiness of business decision-making.
Well, the Decalog, Bushido, Mosiac, Buddist and Koranic codes were all written by women, no? Most of our laws and statutes governing morality and ethics were written by women, no? Most of the books and tracts and declarations and treatises on ethics and morality over the long history of our culture were written by women, no?
Oh, oops. No. No they weren’t. Which is not to say the ladies haven’t written some smoking books over the years. Hello, Jane Austen!
But women in general have not concerned themselves overly much with morality and ethics at the universal level. At the personal level? Oh hell yeah. Check out any junior high, anywhere, in any city, any country, anywhere on the planet.
Ladies be calling each other out on morals all the time! But codifying those morals into laws that apply equally to everyone, everywhere? Yeah, not so much.
But okay, let’s accept, just for shits and giggles, that women ARE more moral than men. According to Jessica and Laura, when women are confronted with tough decisions, like whether or not to make a cancer drug that contains a cheaper ingredient that will A) save a lot of people because it’s affordable and accessible; and, B) kill a few people because a cheaper ingredient was used, the ladies are incredibly reluctant to make the decision.
You see, at the end of the day, someone is going to have to make that decision, and when the chips fall, someone will also have to own that decision. A truly brilliant business leader will have the power to make decisions, and always have some starry-eyed lackey to blame afterwards.
Oh, boo hoo! That’s so unfair.
Welcome to life, cupcake. You don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate.
Here’s another issue that sets the Moral Lady head aspinning: child labor. What if that shitty cancer drug is being made in a factory staffed largely by children? Another decision the ladies DO NOT WANT TO MAKE.
Now, having grown up on a farm where we produced virtually all of our own food, I have a very different take on the issue of child labor. You see, the way food works is that you mix some cow shit and dirt together and plant seeds and then water the little sproutlings and rip out all the bad little sproutlings that aren’t supposed to be there and the sproutlings grow into food and ripen under the sun and then ALL THE FOOD IS READY AT ONCE.
Seriously. It’s true. You have days and days and days with NO TOMATOES and then all the fucking tomatoes turn red on the same day and holy shit, what are we gonna do with all these tomatoes?
Pick them, cook them, puree them, can them.
There was no way my mom and dad could do all that by themselves, so we all pitched in. Yep, we were child laborers. All four of us. And not just us! Every kid in the county! That’s farm life, and although my parents were shitty and violent and stupid, the farming aspect of my childhood was absolutely wonderful. My fondest memories are of churning butter and baking bread and harvesting potatoes and there is nothing quite like the enormous satisfaction of knowing that you are living off the fruits of your own labor. Popping the lid off a jar of tomatoes YOU planted, YOU watered, YOU harvested, YOU cooked, YOU canned – there is nothing quite like it.
There is also nothing quite like a jar that wasn’t perfectly clean when you sealed it. The bacteria grows and grows and grows and then WHAM – the whole fucking jar explodes! Tomato grenade!
Child labor is, and has been, a fact of life for almost all of human history. Our own culture and economy evolved on the backs of child labor. Textile mills and coal pits and tanneries and chimney sweeps. We built our city with the help of kids.
The idea that childhood is a special time of life and that children should be protected from the adult world of production and labor is very, very new. And it doesn’t apply in most of the still developing world. Mr. JB and I spent our first year of married life in a rapidly developing city in China, and we have seen modern child labor up close.
Is it pretty? Not always. Lots of little shops and restaurants are family-owned businesses, and there is no question that the kids help out. While China has a technical “one-child” policy, the reality is that only people with bank accounts and tax returns can effectively be policed vis-à-vis that policy. The truly poor and the truly rich (who can pay the fines) very often have more than one child.
And those children work. Especially since only one of them, in the case of poor folks, can go to school. Is it fair? Nope. But it’s life. And that one kid who makes it through school and college and into the emerging middle class workforce takes the whole family along with him or her. The whole family rises, just as the whole family succeeded in North America, when they all worked together.
It’s the height of hypocrisy for the rich Western world to deny the developing world the same advantages they had while building their own economy. Our economy wouldn’t exist without the tremendous wealth and opportunity provided by agricultural sector. An abundance of FOOD is what made the Western world possible. It is the basis of all our success and it would not have happened without the labor of children.
Let’s go back to the idea that women are more concerned with making moral decisions in the business world. As you can see from Jessica and Laura’s work, women have no problem making decisions. They just don’t like making TOUGH decisions.
So, you’re an executive at a pharmaceutical company and you have a choice to make: produce a low-cost, accessible cancer drug that uses a cheaper ingredient that might actually kill some patients, OR produce a higher cost, less accessible drug that uses a more expensive ingredient, but that is UNLIKELY to kill any patients.
Except for all the patients who couldn’t afford the drug in the first place.
The executive has more than just one set of constraints. His first job is to ensure that the company (and by extension, all the workers) continue to exist. He needs to take care of his people. His second job is to make sure he is earning some PROFITS. That is HOW the company will survive. His third job is to produce a product that is safe, effective and sellable. And he needs to do all that with a pack of competitors snapping at his heels, ready to knock him off the top of the pile and take the lead market position.
It’s a tough call.
And that is where codified morals and ethics and laws come into play. If the FDA has approved the cheaper ingredient, then the executive would be foolish not to use it. If he doesn’t, someone else will. And that cheaper, more accessible drug will kick his more “ethical” drug onto the dirtpile of failed enterprise.
He will be out of a job and so will all his workers.
Sooner or later, someone will notice that, oh shit, that cheaper ingredient is actually KILLLING people, and the FDA will rescind its approval. Now EVERYONE has to use the more expensive ingredient. The playing field is levelled.
That’s how it works.
But knowing the rules of the game doesn’t make the game any easier to play. There is a distinct possibility that the executive will be held responsible for choosing the cheaper ingredient when he KNEW it could be lethal for some patients. He might have to face some music for that decision, and that’s where the ladies quaver.
Laura and Jessica aren’t terribly interested in the consequences of valuing morality and ethics more highly than good business decisions that keep people in their jobs and our whole society moving forward. Not surprising for some ivory tower eggheads who have probably never done a real day’s work in their lives. They would like to see some ethics training put into place, so that lady executives, when confronting the above situation, can actually refuse to use the cheaper ingredient.
And in doing so, run the risk that they destroy the whole business. Good plan.
But at least you won’t have to own your decision.
One promising conclusion from this research is that if more women do enter the business world, standards of ethics may evolve. “We need to see more women at the top,” Kray says. “I think that will change the culture of corporate America.”
Oh, you got that right. It will tie the hands of corporate North America. Boardrooms stuffed with chicken-shit ladies too afraid to make tough decisions and take responsibility for rational actions carried out in a context that has mechanisms to ensure, over time, that better and better decisions are made.
But hey, let’s not let the world’s most successful society and economy, the one that has delivered untold riches to the entire planet, keep on trucking. Let’s make everything pleasant and kind and fair and maybe put some special troughs out in the parking lot to feed our unicorns their sparkle dust.
Just be careful not to step in a big steaming pile of unicorn shit on your way to the corner office ladies.
Your superior moral decisions already stink. No need to make it worse.
Lots of love,