There are more men named David running NZX-listed firms than there are women.

There are more men named David running NZX-listed firms than there are women, of any name. Also more Marks, Christophers and Michaels. When it comes to Chairmen of NZX-listed firms, then it’s Peters, Davids, Johns and Christophers at the top of the list, followed by women of any name.

I collated the data and wrote about it for my university’s annual “Future NZ” magazine, which is a joint publication with the NZ Herald. The full article is available here: Who’s running New Zealand’s companies?

New Zealand is of course very small, so the data could be distorted easily. It could be for example, that if I had counted things a little differently, or chosen a different time period, or looked at say the Deloitte Top 200, that I would have gotten a different result. Perhaps it might have been James, Josh and Ben at the top of the list. But I don’t think the overall pattern would have changed. When it comes to business in New Zealand, it’s men who are running the place, and it’s very hard for women to get a look in at all.

I think there are ways of changing this, starting with raising awareness of the problem, and then making positive steps to make a difference. The Ministry for Women runs a nominations service to facilitate the appointment of women to state sector boards and committees: perhaps it could be expanded to provide a register of board-ready women that private sector firms could use too.

And yes, lack of diversity in the top level management of New Zealand business is a problem. The research is very clear: people make better decisions in more diverse groups.

Talking about women in science

I was on Radio NZ Nights a couple of weeks ago, talking about women in science.

Radio NZ Nights: Feminist Pundit on women in science

The topic came to mind because I had just seen an article about the statistical likelihood of having an all-male panel at maths conferences (in a totally surprising finding, it’s statistically very unlikely) and by a tweet conversation with the wonderful Siouxsie Wiles about imposter syndrome, and by the Gendered Conference Campaign run by the Feminist Philosophers’ Blog. (I do know that Philosophy is not a science, but of all the humanities disciplines, Philosophy might be the one that most resembles the sciences in its academic practices.) A day or two after I had suggested the topic, in a very fortunate coincidence of timing, Nicola Gaston’s new book, Why Science is Sexist, came out.

The conversation with Bryan Crump was great fun, as usual. For more on Bryan’s general excellence as a broadcaster, skip to the bottom of this post.

We covered the leaky pipeline: lots of women taking science at school and at undergraduate levels, and even at higher levels, but very very few at the top levels of science. Nicola Gaston has a great story about this.

Dr Nicola Gaston tells a story about an encounter at an international conference dinner one night in 2012.

Sitting with a group of five, four of whom she knew well, a senior member of the quantum chemistry academy running the conference stopped by to talk to someone opposite her. The conversation was about one of the talks that morning.

The visitor said to Dr Gaston: “I’m sorry, we must be boring you.”

She assured him that wasn’t the case.

“Oh, but you aren’t one of us, are you?” he continued. “What I mean is, you aren’t a scientist, are you?”

The table now in silence, she replied: “Actually, yes I am.”

The man’s forehead wrinkled, he smiled, and asked: “Oh, what kind of science? What I mean is, you aren’t our kind of scientist, are you?”

She said something to the man, headed straight for the bar, and it was there that she noticed her environment. At the tables behind her, filled mostly with students and postdoctoral researchers, the gender split was 50/50, while the tables surrounding hers, hosting working scientists, were largely full of men. At the front, where VIPs and members of the academy were seated, the ratio was again half and half – but only because the men had brought their wives.

But why would there be such a drop off of women in science?

It could be due to stereotype threat:

When there’s a stereotype in the air and people are worried they might confirm the stereotype by performing poorly, their fears can inadvertently make the stereotype become self-fulfilling.

Steele and his colleagues found that when women were reminded — even subtly — of the stereotype that men were better than women at math, the performance of women in math tests measurably declined. Since the reduction in performance came about because women were threatened by the stereotype, the psychologists called the phenomenon “stereotype threat.”

There’s a classic xkcd comic that’s very much to the point here.

Then there’s women in science constantly being disparaged: witness Tim Hunt making cracks about “girls” in labs, and that shirt that Matt Taylor wore when he was talking to the world’s media about landing a spacecraft on a comet (to his credit, Taylor got the point straight away, apologised for his goof-up and moved on, unlike Hunt), and Larry Summers talking about how women just don’t have the innate ability for science.

NB: for those of you who are still attached to the view that Tim Hunt was very hard done by, check out this very thorough review of what actually happened: Saving Tim Hunt.

This is the sort of climate that women face in science: men who won’t take women seriously, and treat them as mere accessories and distractions. Is it any wonder that women don’t stay in science?

So what are the solutions? Consciousness raising: acknowledging that the problem actually exists. Mentoring women scientists. Recognising that this is a problem for everyone to solve, rather than expecting individual women to solve a systemic problem. This is particularly important because the negativity around women in science, and women in any non-traditional gender roles, is something that we all do. Women are part of our society just as much as men, and we absorb the same attitudes. So women need to recognise and work to solve this problem too. And it will be all to the good if we can solve the problem. At present, a good proportion of people who would be excellent scientists are being turned away from doing science, and that means that we are squandering their work and talents.

I recommend Nicola Gaston’s book: it’s well worth reading. She was on Q&A a couple of weeks ago talking about the issues for women in science: Q&A: Sexism and science.

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I’ve been Radio NZ Night’s feminist pundit for three years now, and it has been great fun. They’re keen to have me back again next year, but there are reviews going on. A couple of straws of gossip in the wind that I’ve picked up on, and this comment on Dim-Post:

depressing news from RNZ source – ‘proposal’ to gut ‘nights’ of local content/interviews and have Brian Crump (only wears his heart in his pocket) as continuity between BBC/overseas content – Hirschfeld (head of content) must find monies for savior of public radio JC’s drivetime multi media (someone that good must be on as many platforms as is financially possible) – aucklanders don’t listen to nighttime radio – too many good restaurants – goodbye public RADIO

That would be a great loss. Obviously I would miss being able to talk feminism on air, but it’s more than that. Bryan Crump is an excellent broadcaster and interviewer. He’s very gentle, and he manages to have conversations with people that generate real insights and real connection. He has a tremendous ability to elicit emotion without being mawkish, or even sentimental. I often turn his show on when I’m driving in the evening, and I’ve been known to get home and stay sitting in the car to keep on listening to an interview, because I don’t want to miss it. I should be very sorry indeed if his local interviews and local content was taken off the air.

Thank you for playing, but you’re wrong!

My university has an on-going series of quirky ads, presenting young people as innovative and fresh-thinking and deeply interested in ideas and technology and science and study. Some of the creative material puzzles me a little, but I figure I’m not really the target demographic.

The latest ad features a young woman walking on water.

Massey2

I love it. The young woman in the ad is Catherine Cater, a Massey university student. She looks like so many of the young women I see around campus. Happy, confident, focused on their own work, doing some extraordinary things. In the ad, Catherine is very much absorbed in what she is doing. She looks reflective, and deeply engaged. She is not there as decoration to sell something: she is there as an active part of the narrative about the university.

But of course, there’s someone who thinks that the ad is a travesty.

She came to me as if in a dream. She was beckoning and calling to me like a pixie vixen, tempting me to move away from the House of Waikato. She wanted me to surrender and be with her kind. But where was she from? Was she real? A fantasy? A sorcerer’s trick? What game was she on and how could mere mortals play?

She was tempting and titillating. She was feminine and full of grace. She appeared to be from the House of Massey and she was perfect.

My fairy queen appeared as a deity, an academic goddess, the perfect maiden of Massey. She is the temptress. And I was caught by her charms.

Without saying so in as many words, it’s clear that the writer thinks that this ad is sexist, and that it’s all about using sex to sell Massey. He carries on to worry about the way that universities advertise themselves, but it’s curious that he’s only chosen to engage with this advertising campaign now, when it has been running since sometime last year (as far as I can recall).

So, thank you for playing, sir! But YOU”RE OUT!

The writer has totally eliminated the young woman in the ad from his analysis, and dreamed up a fantasy woman instead. Where I see a young woman who is doing exactly what we hope young women will do, that is, focus on their own hopes and dreams, focus on the extraordinary things that they can achieve, focus on achievement, the writer turns her into some kind of sexual object. The objectification going on here is done entirely by the writer. From the writing, it seems that the only way he can react to the young woman is by casting her in a sexual way. He focuses entirely on her as a sexual object, in a way that I think is well beyond the image in the advertisement.

The only problem here is the writer.

Catherine Cater herself puts it so well.

University is evolving, students are changing, and perhaps if you were to step away from the games you seem to enjoy – judging by your use of language – you yourself would see that too. But what would I know? I’m just a stereotypical ‘hot chick’ with no real intelligence and use besides marketing ploys, why would my opinion matter?,” she wrote.

Your aim was to call Massey out on a sexist ad, but in doing so have shown your views to be outdated and sexist all on their own.

For the record, I’ve written this post entirely on my own, my employer has nothing to do with it, and I was only alerted to the opinion piece because a story about it popped up in the local newspaper: Massey University’s new “I am” ad sparks debate. That is where I found Catherine Cater’s own defence of the ads.

Talking about male privilege

I was on Radio NZ Nights last night, talking about male privilege, and some other forms of privilege. You can listen to the discussion here: Feminism – Male Privilege.

As usual, I had sent some notes to Bryan Crump before the discussion. I started with a definition of male privilege: social, economic and political advantages or rights that a made available to men solely on the basis of their sex. For background reading, I linked to tigtog’s excellent FAQ at Finally Feminism 101: What is male privilege?.

From there we quickly got onto Barry Deutsch’s male privilege checklist: The Male Privilege Checklist. The conversation segued all over the place from there, including the usual places: women and children first on shipwrecks, the privilege of beauty, and so on.

We didn’t get to John Scalzi’s Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is, but Bryan suggested an excellent analogy. He thought that privilege is a bit like cycling with a tail wind. You don’t really notice the assistance at all: you just think that you’re peddling along at great speed.

I had been thinking about a few examples of privilege during the day, in preparation for the talk. I wanted to talk about white privilege, perhaps in connection with Peggy McIntosh’s famous white privilege checklist, but as it turned out, the topic came up in connection with a tweet from Morgan Godfrey that I had seen earlier in the day.

“Maori are bicultural by necessity, would be great if the rest of the country was too…”

I also talked about the planning that women go through about how they will walk home at night, in connection with a conference I am attending this weekend (Kiwi Foo Camp FTW!). I talked about how I had been offered accommodation in town, away from the conference venue, but in order to take it up, I would have to think through how I was going to get from the venue to my accommodation, which routes I would take, and how I could stay safe walking through a suburban street after dark. Bryan suggested that perhaps this on-going safety planning that women do is conditioned into us, in comparison to men feeling much more free to go where and when they will. I agreed that it was likely a matter of conditioning, but that didn’t take away the privilege of having that tailwind of not worrying about it.

Some other examples I had in mind but didn’t have the opportunity to mention:
– As a heterosexual woman, I enjoy the privilege of walking down the street holding my husband’s hand and not giving it a second thought, but a gay man would need to go through a process of checking his surroundings, checking who else was about, thinking about whether he and his husband were safe from attack before they could do such a thing, and possibly (probably, alas, in far too many streets in New Zealand) choose not to express their companionship by such a simple action.
– As an able bodied woman, I never, ever have to plan my routes around campus, or go around to a different entrance to a building, or ask for assistance from complete strangers to get up and down steps, whereas many disabled people have to go through these calculations every time they leave their home.

We talked a bit about privilege being a matter of context – a person can be privileged in some aspects of their lives, but not in others. That’s certainly my personal experience, and I know that many straight white men nevertheless experience real difficulty in other aspects of their lives. But really, see The Lowest Difficulty Setting.

A final note: as ever, a white person writing about white privilege and a man writing about male privilege are given far more credence than a black person or a woman writing about the same topics. As indeed, a white New Zealander talking about Pakeha privilege on Radio NZ might just be given far more credence than a Maori New Zealander talking about it…

Some more reading on privilege:
Don’t women have female privilege?
The lowest difficulty setting in action, with evidence

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Women, beauty and age

I was on Radio NZ Nights yesterday evening, talking about women and beauty and age and double standards. You can listen to the discussion here.

Radio NZ Nights: Equality for women with feminist blogger Deborah Russell: women, beauty, aging and double standards.

I started with Mary Wollstonecraft, and her deep concerns about how the quest for beauty and beauty alone distorted women’s behaviour.

And, why do they not discover, when ‘in the noon of beauty’s power,’c that they are treated like queens only to be deluded by hollow respect, till they are led to resign, or not assume, their natural prerogatives? Confined then in cages like the feathered race, they have nothing to do but to plume themselves, and stalk with mock majesty from perch to perch.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft, 1792

The conversation segued from there, as it always does, here, there and everywhere. Bryan Crump, the Nights host, always (always!) asks me something unexpected.

As I was preparing for the discussion, I came across Susan Sontag’s 1972 article, “The Double Standard of Aging” (PDF available here).

A man doesn’t need to tamper with his face. A woman’s face is the canvas on which she paints a revised portrait of herself.

It’s very much second wave feminism, but there are some hints here and there of seeing beyond the concerns of white middle class educated women.

Oppressors, as a rule, deny oppressed people their own “native” standards of beauty. And the oppressed end up being convinced that they are ugly.

There’s a post on Sociological Images, referencing Sontag, and looking at the differences between the images that come up if you google, “woman face”, and “man face”. It makes Sontag’s point, that women are supposed to be young, with symmetrical, unlined, hairless faces. And evidently, as Sociological Images says, they should also be white.

As ever, when I’m talking to a generalist audience on Radio NZ, I tend towards a more mainstream feminism. I’ll be talking again in a few weeks, sometime in June, and I’m contemplating pushing into somewhat more complicated territory, perhaps into a discussion of intersectionality and privilege. We shall see….