Has the Fawcett Society gone quite mad? Yesterday, they published the report Are women bearing the burden of the recession? Now, I’m quite open to the argument that the answer to that question might be yes. Fawcett goes further however, claiming that “this is, literally, a man-made recession.” The report itself qualifies this slightly:
It is important that the argument about why this is a problem is made without descending into simplistic caricatures of women and menâ€™s behaviour (i.e. that men are testosterone-fuelled risk takers while women are risk averse and compassionate). We would argue that the problem lies, rather, in the fact that these institutions have drawn their senior gures from one narrow demographic. This means, rstly, that they are by denition missing out on the talents of 52% of the population. This clearly compromises their search for the best talent. Secondly, engaging only men – and frequently only white Oxbridge educated men – at the very top carries a high risk of creating â€˜group thinkâ€™ within the institution. Where decision makers are drawn from the same background they are likely to have a similar world view, the same sources of intelligence and are less likely to challenge one another. Thirdly, women and men continue to have different life experiences and their needs and interests are often different as a consequence. Better governance comes when a rich variety of life experience is reected among decision makers. Not surprising then that studies have identied that the most creative and innovative institutions arise where there is a gender balance in the senior teams (McKinsey 2007; Catalyst 2007).
The most obvious problem with that argument, apart from the fact that it is clear that the simplistic caricature is exactly what Fawcett sought to invoke as part of their press strategy (after all, since this is probably the least important aspect of the report, why make it the headline issue?), is the last thing the financial organisations that have brought us economic ruin could be accused of is a lack of creativity. It was creativity, finding ever new ways to lend the same money and to speculate on the speculation of the speculation of shares, that got us into this bloody mess.
I’m relatively open minded about the idea of gender quotas on boards. It has worked in Norway. The one thing that has made me wary about it though is the realisation that far from expanding the diversity of the boardroom, the new places have been taken up by a narrow group of businesswoman holding several directorships at a time. Reading this article last year, I was struck by how divorced the interviewees seemed to view their roles from the actual business of doing business. If it happened in the UK, I see no evidence at all to suggest that such a law would replace those accursed “white Oxbridge educated men” with anything but “white Oxbridge educated women.” For Fawcett, that may be progress, but not for me.
But before I get denounced as an unreconstructed misogynist, let me give the last word to Catherine Bennett:
To see the reality of male-female sex difference, in all its wonderful complexity, we need look no further than the British cabinet. Women have a nurturing and cautious influence? Didn’t every woman in the cabinet vote to invade Iraq? An innate aversion to risk and short-term greed? Must we return to Jowell’s bribe-funded mortgage, of which she still claims she was ignorant, or Smith’s second home scam? Are women more co-operative, more calm and less hierarchical than men? With Blears jabbing at Harman, while the latter plots against Brown for the leadership?
Just as the banks rewarded horrible behaviour in a particular subset of men, the higher echelons of politics appear to encourage the antics of a particular sort of second-rate, power-obsessed, preachy yet surprisingly unprincipled woman.
It is quite natural to find such women repellent. But would any of them be better if they were John Prescott?