I am fortunate to be in a workenvironment where the overwhelmingmajority of my directreports, coworkers, readers andmost of the decision makers at thecompanies who do business withDiversityInc are women. Fromthat experienceand being a husbandand the father of daughtersI value the fact that womenthink differently than men.
There is no doubt in my mindthat Larry Summers, head of theWhite House National EconomicCouncil, was right when he said as President of Harvard University atthe National Bureau of Economic Research Conferenceon Diversifyingthe Science & EngineeringWorkforce on Jan. 14, 2005:”There may also be elements, bythe way, of differing. There is some,particularly in some attributes,that bear on engineering. Thereis reasonably strong evidence oftaste differences between little girlsand little boys that are not easy toattribute to socialization.”
Where he went all wrong in thatinfamous speech, which eventuallycost him his job at Harvard, isassuming that anything other than
discrimination is the cause of therebeing fewer women in science thanmen. Even worse is his implicitassertion that the system that
produces the discrimination is righteous,beneficial and sacrosanct.But that’s the thinking in ourmale-dominated society. Somehow,
men don’t seem to relate theproblems that the world currentlyfacesthe financial disaster we’reall in, for examplewith blatant
discrimination. The WallStreet Journal ran a front-pagearticle about the folks who werepaid the highest bonuses at MerrillLynch for their work in 2008.The men in the photo were allwhite men. It doesn’t seem naturalin our male-dominated societyto connect the dots between thatdiscrimination (which is fairlyconsistent with all the banks andbrokerage companies involvedwith this disaster) and the worstmarket disaster since the GreatDepression (a time when onlywhite men were running things).
I think Summers put the finalnail in his Harvard-presidencycoffin with his follow-up writtenapology: “My January remarks substantially
understated the impactof socialization and discrimination,including implicit attitudespatternsof thought to which all of usare unconsciously subject.”
This is a profoundly illuminatingstatement. Summers wouldhave been far better off to run withhis first thought in his originalspeechthere are differencesbetween little girls and little boys,as well as men and women, thatare not due to socialization. Tolump socialization with discriminationimplies that all the ways thatwomen are socialized are wrong.I’m not referring to socializationthat is sexist and imposed; I’mdescribing the socialization thatoccurs due to the differences inthinking between genders. Thesedifferent “patterns of thought”are not a “problem” unless they’reviewed exclusively through a malefilter. Actually, the “patterns” arejust what they aredifferent.
The world would be far betteroff accepting differencesacceptingfemininity as equalandchanging the system to give us defacto equality as a predestinatedand absolutely required outcome.If we did this, the very nature ofhow we do things would changeforever. If we relentlessly force thesystem to adapt to human nature,both male and female, wherewould we end up
There’s aneed for conscious and forthrightacceptance of gender difference asan absoluteand one that mustbe treated as absolutely equal.We could then go on to properlycredit the exponential progressour world has seen in the past severaldecades: Remarkable increasesin literacy, reductions in hungerand the fact that we’re living in aperiod of less war per capita thanever before in human history, forexample. I believe these benefitsto all people have a cause: They’redirectly due to a simultaneousincrease in rights for women. Justice delayed is progressdenied.
Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw onDiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader indiversity 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.