There Are Stupid Ways To Measure Gender Equality – The WEF Is Using One

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It’s entirely and wholly true that the world doesn’t have gender equality today – nor gender parity if that’s how you’d prefer to put it. But there are stupid methods of trying to measure this event or reality and the World Economic Forum is erring by using one of those stupid ways. That error encapsulated in the use of the word either equality or parity.

Just to put this on a personal level, I work as a journalist, not a banker. Bankers generally make more money than journalists. Am I a victim of something or other because I make less money than a banker? Or have I made a choice, a choice which comes with a certain bundle of costs and benefits? Equality would mean that I have an equal opportunity to make that choice and enjoy the results of it. Parity would take that a step further and seem to insist that the outcome should be the same rather than the ability to make the choice.

Yes, we’re back to our old friend equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. It’s only the first which is important, the second a chimera and thus a ludicrous target for anything at all. The World Economic Forum is on the wrong end of this one:

Gender parity 108 years away as number of women participating in the workplace falls

The underlying assumption there is that there’s some desire to have the same number of women in the workplace as there are men – or perhaps the same portion of each gender are out there working for money in the marketplace.

But why? Why would we want such an equality of outcome?

Quite apart from anything else Italy has a markedly low gender pay gap. This is because married women – especially those with children – tend not to work. We might say that this is a signal of a patriarchal society and we might even be right if we do so. But consider what it is which creates our own gender pay gap – that mothers earn less than non-mothers, that fathers earn more than non-fathers. If we extract near all mothers from that paid workforce then the major driver of the gender pay gap disappears. Thus that Italian low gender pay gap. Mothers aren’t dragging the female average down by dint of not working at all.

And here’s the thing. What if it is a conscious and desired choice by those women not to be flogging their labour in that marketplace? Why therefore would we be arguing for parity in workforce membership, setting targets for it and measuring success by it?

The Global Gender Gap Index was first introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 as a framework for capturing the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress over time. The Index benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, education, health and political criteria, and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across regions and income groups. The rankings are designed to create global awareness of the challenges posed by gender gaps and the opportunities created by reducing them. The methodology and quantitative analysis behind the rankings are intended to serve as a basis for designing effective measures for reducing gender gaps.

Buried in that is the assumption that we should have equality of outcome. That an equal portion of women should be doing paid work as men. But we’re a mammalian – thus viviparous and lactating – species, we’re sexually dimorphic and we’ve by far the longest childhood requiring parental care of any species. Our evolution has run along the lines of a sexual division of labour. Why would we therefore want to have equality of outcome?

Absolutely, if women desire to climb the greasy pole then why not? Or rather, if any particular woman wishes to do so then sure, equality of opportunity alongside men just as along any other axis we’d like to use to distinguish or not between people. Just as with intelligence, application, talent, skill, whatever. Everybody should get an equal shake and by and large in the rich countries we’re there. We’re certainly doing it all very much better than any other human society ever has done.

But it is and should be equality of choice, or opportunity. WEF is insisting on the next leap, equality of outcome. For their measure of success is the portion of women in the paid workforce equalling that of men. It’s simply the wrong target, a stupid measure. But then, you know, fashionable nostrums and the madness of crowds. Hysteria even if that weren’t mansplaining.

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Jonathan Harston

Clearly, the obvious response is to make it illegal for women to not work.