In 2005, Larry Summers, the president of Harvard (then, not now), gave a speech in which he declared that the reason there were so few women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) was because 1) women aren’t as good as men in these fields “at the high end,” 2) women don’t choose to work these fields, and 3) discrimination.
As you can imagine, there was a huge backlash. For that and a few other good reasons, Summers resigned the following year.
Since then, several studies have provided solid evidence against the “women aren’t as good as men” nonsense. And the connection between women losing interest in their STEM jobs (50% of them leave in the first 12 years compared to 20% of professional men) and their well-publicized lack of equal in these fields is self-explanatory.
A recent study by a team of researchers from Columbia, Northwestern, and the University of Chicago, found that both male and female hiring managers unconsciously believe that women are not as good at math as men.
- When the managers were asked to choose whom to “hire” to do a math task, and the only information they had was the candidate’s gender, 66 percent chose the male candidate. In other words, they were twice as likely to choose the man.
- When the candidates had the opportunity to tell the managers how well they thought they would do on the math task (having already completed a similar task), 66 percent of the “employers” still chose the man. (The authors of the study pointed out that “men tended to boast about their performance, whereas women generally underreport it.”)
- Finally, when the hiring managers were allowed to watch the men and women do the math problem and the “update” their decision if they wanted, Employers still only picked women 43 percent of the time. In fact, they chose candidates who performed worse nearly 20% of the time – and 64 percent of those choices were man.
In plain English, this means that men who performed worse on the math test more often got hired anyway.
The 30% Solution
There’s enough bad news in the world that it only makes sense to leaven it with good news. Let me introduce you to the 30% Club.
Twenty-four CEOS and board chairs of top U.S. companies – including Warren Buffett and Bloomberg Chairman Peter Grauer – have joined forces to create their own version of Britain’s very successful 30% Club, which focuses on boosting women’s leadership in large corporations.
“This is a business issue as much as it is a diversity issue,” Grauer said. “Businesses do better when they avoid ‘group think’, and better gender balance is a key factor in business success. That said, we have a lot more work to do in the U.S. to improve female representation, and senior business leaders have to drive that change.”
The 92 Club members in the U.K. have focused on creating better gender balance by targeting talent management practices, executive search firms, shareholders, and schools and universities. The U.S. group has not announced its plans yet.
(I could suggest something right off the bat: How about making it the 50% Club?)