Friday, August 15, 2014

Perspectives On Development: The Role Of Women

This post is my catching up on various research and articles that I’ve bookmarked over the last few months on gender issues.

The World Bank has some new research briefs issued this week:

New Evidence Highlights What Works to Empower Girls and Young Women

Washington, August 11, 2014—Educating, empowering, and employing the largest-ever generation of young people is vital to ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity—the World Bank Group's twin corporate goals. New impact evaluation (IE) briefs by the World Bank Group (WBG), released ahead of International Youth Day 2014, shed new light on what works in development interventions targeting girls and young women, who still account for a disproportionate share of the world’s poor and face persistent inequalities at home, school, and work that help keep them and their families in poverty.

You can access the briefs through the article or through the World Bank’s gender resource site (here).

There’s also a slightly older report issued a few months back, also by the World Bank, on women’s voice and agency:

Voice and Agency: Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity

This major new report distills an array of data, studies and evidence to shine a spotlight on the pervasive deprivations and constraints that face women and girls worldwide—from epidemic gender-based violence to laws and norms that prevent women from owning property, working, making decisions about their own lives and having influence in society. It identifies some promising programs and interventions to address these deprivations and constraints.

The report calls on policy makers and stakeholders to tackle this agenda by drawing on evidence about what works and systematically tracking progress on the ground. This must start with reforming discriminatory laws and follow through with concerted policies and public actions, including multi-sectoral approaches that engage with men and boys and challenge adverse social norms. There is much to gain. Increasing women’s voice and agency is a valuable end in its own right. And it underpins achievement of the World Bank Group’s twin goals of eliminating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity for girls and boys, women and men, around the world.

I haven’t had the chance to tackle either the briefs or the report, but they’re on my reading list. Unfortunately my reading list, like my waistline, shows no sign of receding with age.

Moving on, here’s a NBER working paper issued a couple of months back on quotas and gender discrimination (abstract; emphasis added):

Breaking the Glass Ceiling? The Effect of Board Quotas on Female Labor Market Outcomes in Norway
Marianne Bertrand, Sandra E. Black, Sissel Jensen, Adriana Lleras-Muney

In late 2003, Norway passed a law mandating 40 percent representation of each gender on the board of publicly limited liability companies. The primary objective of this reform was to increase the representation of women in top positions in the corporate sector and decrease gender disparity in earnings within that sector. We document that the newly (post-reform) appointed female board members were observably more qualified than their female predecessors, and that the gender gap in earnings within boards fell substantially. While the reform may have improved the representation of female employees at the very top of the earnings distribution (top 5 highest earners) within firms that were mandated to increase female participation on their board, there is no evidence that these gains at the very top trickled-down. Moreover the reform had no obvious impact on highly qualified women whose qualifications mirror those of board members but who were not appointed to boards. We observe no statistically significant change in the gender wage gaps or in female representation in top positions, although standard errors are large enough that we cannot rule economically meaningful gains. Finally, there is little evidence that the reform affected the decisions of women more generally; it was not accompanied by any change in female enrollment in business education programs, or a convergence in earnings trajectories between recent male and female graduates of such programs. While young women preparing for a career in business report being aware of the reform and expect their earnings and promotion chances to benefit from it, the reform did not affect their fertility and marital plans. Overall, in the short run the reform had very little discernible impact on women in business beyond its direct effect on the newly appointed female board members.

As father to a ten-year old daughter, this is of more than academic interest to me, and has obvious policy relevance as Malaysia has instituted a similar quota. The lack of impact is troubling (and predictable), though I should say that Norway’s gender gap is much smaller than ours – nearly a third smaller (8% versus about 20%)– so the effects of policy at the margin would be considerably weaker.

Lastly, there’s this fascinating article last week at the New Republic (excerpt):

Men Have Every Right to Complain About Parenting
Why we need more men to speak openly about the challenges and joys of raising kids

This summer, as every summer, has seen a spate of stories about the impossible balancing act of raising children and earning wages in a country that is not built to support these joint pursuits. Blame it, perhaps, on the scramble for summer-time childcare. And, as seems true every summer, most of these stories have been told by women....

...The centering of conversations about work-family life on women makes sense in many respects, especially when we consider that it is women whose lives and bodies are most directly affected by family-unfriendly social policies and that in an ever-rising number of families, especially working class families, there often are no partners with whom to split the burdens and the joys of parenting. What’s more, the lopsidedly female nature of public meditations on work-family balance, coming from women who are seemingly happily partnered, is telling in itself: It reflects the degree to which one sex, though now freer to pursue economic and professional aims, is still saddled with the lion’s share of home and child-care labor.

But what of the two-parent, hetero unions in which men are full-fledged, equally-stressed-out participants? They exist! The fact that we don’t hear very much about them—all while hearing lots of valuable stuff from the women who are bearing the brunt of the pressures—means that in some way we are reinforcing this unequal set up as a norm, re-affirming an expectation that women, even those who enter socially and professionally equal partnerships, are somehow destined to wind up uniquely over-taxed, fighting the demons of guilt and overwork fundamentally on their own.

That’s why it’s so important that this week, when Max Schireson, CEO of the database company MongoDB, stepped down, he cited the desire to be a better father and husband as his reason. A Silicon Valley big-shot, Schireson has been asked about his automotive and music preferences, but no one has ever bother to ask, in his words, “how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO”—the male version of the work-family balance question that he has heard posed to GM CEO Mary Barra, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, and to his own wife, a physician and professor of Obstetrics at Stanford University. So not that anyone asked, but Schireson would like the world to know: He no longer wants to do the balancing act. He would prefer to spend time with his three children, be a better husband to his busy wife, and find a way to make his job “compatible with the most important responsibilities in my life”—in his case, his family.

I believe that there are a lot more Max Schiresons in the world—or at least more men who feel uncomfortably tugged between their responsibilities to their home and professional worlds—than we’re led to believe. And that’s why we have to hear more from them and, more importantly, pay more attention to what they have to say....

Malaysian men…take note. It’s ok to wash the dishes, change the diapers, or take leave to take care of the kids. You won’t be alone.

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