I am fortunate to be in a work environment where the overwhelming majority of my direct reports, coworkers, readers and most of the decision makers at the companies who do business with DiversityInc are women. From that experience—and being a husband and the father of daughters—I value the fact that women think differently than men.
There is no doubt in my mind that Larry Summers, head of the White House National Economic Council, was right when he said as President of Harvard University at the National Bureau of Economic Research Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce on Jan. 14, 2005: “There may also be elements, by the way, of differing. There is some, particularly in some attributes, that bear on engineering. There is reasonably strong evidence of taste differences between little girls and little boys that are not easy to attribute to socialization.”
Where he went all wrong in that infamous speech, which eventually cost him his job at Harvard, is assuming that anything other than
discrimination is the cause of there being fewer women in science than men. Even worse is his implicit assertion that the system that
produces the discrimination is righteous, beneficial and sacrosanct. But that’s the thinking in our male-dominated society. Somehow,
men don’t seem to relate the problems that the world currently faces—the financial disaster we’re all in, for example—with blatant
discrimination. The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page article about the folks who were paid the highest bonuses at Merrill Lynch for their work in 2008. The men in the photo were all white men. It doesn’t seem natural in our male-dominated society to connect the dots between that discrimination (which is fairly consistent with all the banks and brokerage companies involved with this disaster) and the worst market disaster since the Great Depression (a time when only white men were running things).
I think Summers put the final nail in his Harvard-presidency coffin with his follow-up written apology: “My January remarks substantially
understated the impact of socialization and discrimination, including implicit attitudes—patterns of thought to which all of us are unconsciously subject.”
This is a profoundly illuminating statement. Summers would have been far better off to run with his first thought in his original speech—there are differences between little girls and little boys, as well as men and women, that are not due to socialization. To lump socialization with discrimination implies that all the ways that women are socialized are wrong. I’m not referring to socialization that is sexist and imposed; I’m describing the socialization that occurs due to the differences in thinking between genders. These different “patterns of thought” are not a “problem” unless they’re viewed exclusively through a male filter. Actually, the “patterns” are just what they are—different.
The world would be far better off accepting differences—accepting femininity as equal—and changing the system to give us defacto equality as a predestinated and absolutely required outcome. If we did this, the very nature of how we do things would change forever. If we relentlessly force the system to adapt to human nature, both male and female, where would we end up?
There’s a need for conscious and forthright acceptance of gender difference as an absolute—and one that must be treated as absolutely equal. We could then go on to properly credit the exponential progress our world has seen in the past several decades: Remarkable increases in literacy, reductions in hunger and the fact that we’re living in a period of less war per capita than ever before in human history, for example. I believe these benefits to all people have a cause: They’re directly due to a simultaneous increase in rights for women. Justice delayed is progress denied.
Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.