I was quite struck last week at SSP 2015 in Arlington, VA by the session entitled Mind the Gap: addressing the need for more women leaders in scholarly publishing. I was struck not so much by the existence of the session, but rather by how few men were present. In fact, the lack of men prompted one audience member to inform the few men who were there that this was not a speed dating session – just in case any wanted to leave.
Here at the Scholarly Kitchen, Alice Meadows asked, in her excellent piece from 2013, Why Aren’t There More Women at the Top in Scholarly Publishing? And yet, here we are in 2015. As an Oxford-educated white male in a leadership position in publishing at an academic society, I thought that it was about time I got actively involved. And this really has very little to do with the fact I recently took a Facebook test, which indicates that I am apparently 85% female.
The essence of my message is that it is up to all of us in leadership positions to tip the scales of diversity towards inclusion and balance. In my mind the way to move forward is not to make a grand gesture and be done with it. Far more important, if somewhat less obvious, is to embark on many small steps with the goal of diversity in mind. When you hire, or when you vote for council representation, or when populate editorial boards, think actively about making sure you have diversity in your pool of candidates and face up to the fact that you might be making some small, unconscious assumptions about competence. It is not about promoting diversity over qualifications, but it is about recognizing that each small active step redresses the balance.
Let’s take a look at my organization, the American Mathematical Society (AMS). The rounded available data for 2013 shows that 58% of AMS members residing in the US admitted to being male, while 15% claimed female status. Clever mathematicians will immediately wonder about the remaining 26%* who neglected to classify themselves. Which leads me to speculate about whether they were on our planet visiting from another world, were refusing to answer on political grounds, or were just tired of answering pesky questions. Given a clear imbalance in the membership, does this in any way translate to the leadership of the AMS? Well, yes, but interestingly in 2013, 62% of Trustees and Council Members (the AMS governance structure) were male, and 38% were female. So in our case, while clearly we have much work to do, it appears that female senior mathematicians are more likely to help lead our society than their male counterparts, notwithstanding the fact that the overall representation of women in the society remains low.
I thought I would look at some other interesting data first made public through the Harvard Business Review blog in a post entitled “Are women better leaders than men?” The report, entitled A Study in Leadership: Women do it Better than Men, was published in 2012 and conducted by Zenger/Folkman, a company that focuses on leadership training. The study sampled 7,280 leaders globally (64% from the US and 36% from overseas) who had their leadership effectiveness evaluated in 2011 using the “360 Degree” evaluation tool. Of these leaders 64% were male and 36% were female – not unlike the spread at AMS. The study unsurprisingly shows that a higher percent of leaders in top management, and in fact those who report to top management, are male.
The study looked at 15 functions ranging across sales, marketing, legal, engineering R&D and so on and found that in 12 of the 15 functions females were more effective than men. In fact many of the areas where females scored much more highly than males were some of the supposedly traditional “male” roles including, legal, sales, product development, engineering and IT. Interestingly in these areas the percentage of women leaders ranged from 13-33%, lower than the proportion of women in the study. The study went on to look at competencies that lie behind the ability to lead, such as taking initiative, integrity and honesty, building relationships, collaboration and teamwork, innovation, practicing self-development etc.. For 12 of the 16 competencies females ranked above males. As the study suggests, it is interesting that we expect somehow that females would be better in competencies that involve relationship building and helping other people. The study shows this, but also finds that the starkest differences where females were far better rated than men were in areas perceived in our clichéd minds as male – areas like taking initiative, driving for results, and integrity and honesty.
The point of all this is that it is time to reframe the gender diversity issue. Women are underrepresented in leadership and yet make better leaders – whoops!
And yet, perhaps we should not be referring to this as a problem at all, but rather as an opportunity for organizations, academic societies, publishers and so on to grow through commonsense behaviors.
I for one am thinking this way. Yes I still like to watch Top Gear, but in real life men and women alike just have to internalize leadership identity and a common sense of purpose.
Further reading of interest:
Study Shows Gender Bias in Science is Real. Here’s Why it matters, by Ilana Yurkiewicz, Scientific American Blog, September 23rd, 2012
Gender and Racial Bias in Hiring, Memo, by Shelley J. Correll and Stephen Benard, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2006
(*Note: all percentages rounded, actual figures are 58.25% male, 15.37% female and 26.38% unknown)