Women like IBM’s (NYSE:IBM) CEO Virginia Rometty, who was named one of Time Magazine‘s 100 Most Influential People in the World this year, and Yahoo’s (NASDAQ:YHOO) new CEO Marissa Mayer, who moved into the corner office even as she expects her first child, have been making big headlines lately.
The approach most articles take, though, I find somewhat baffling.
“More women on Wall Street isn’t just better for women,” they exclaim, “It’s better for Wall Street! And more women on the board isn’t just about equality — it improves the bottom line!”
Then, the icing on the cake — studies are tossed out to prove it.
Yet all these headlines and studies still fall flat because of one simple notion: The expectation that there is any universal type of woman to begin with. Whether our old gender role of happy homemaker or a new gender role of “equal to men” or “better for business” is applied, the bottom line is that it is role-playing all the same.
Such expectations start as early as preschool and in things as seemingly benign as the choice of a Happy Meal toy at McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD). The boy Transformers toy or the girl Barbie toy? You can only be one or the other.
Then we throw our hands in the air and wonder why on earth those little Barbie-loving girls don’t grow up to work on Wall Street or become higher-ups of big-name businesses. But the same kinds of expectations play a large role.
See, the thing with McDonald’s is that it’s not like there are no girl toys offered at all — if that were the case, God knows the Golden Arches would see a firestorm worse than the one caused by Facebook’s (NASDAQ:FB) once-female-free board of directors (don’t forget, things settled down once token female Sheryl Sandberg was pulled on board).
But, instead, the choice is there, and with it an abstract notion of equality that hazes over the implied idea: the idea of a “real” or “right” female (one that plays with dolls, in this case).
The same is true for women in the work force. A similar illusion of equal opportunity is padded by the many studies women can throw around to make ourselves feel good about our progress: We constitute nearly 60% of college grads, the pay gap has narrowed, and we make lots of buying decisions! Hooray!
But then our bubble is burst by the fact women still only held 16% of board seats on Fortune 500 companies in 2011 and that the already-low number of females on Wall Street dwindled even further in the wake of the financial crisis. So, we yank our expectations of women away from the dolls and more toward the Transformers in an attempt to correct these discrepancies.
The Boys Will Be Boys study is an especially popular pathway to doing this, as it shows women are more conservative and successful investors thanks to the macho-man problem of overconfidence.
Or sometimes, a popular line of thinking is that women have more leadership qualities that are associated with success — such as being both more nurturing and ethical.
Plus there’s data showing that organizations with three or more women as members of the board of directors donated an average of 28 times more than those without such diversity.
I think it’s all a load of bull.