It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.
(paraphrased from Charles Darwin)
Do you remember the TV show All In The Family? In the episode Gloria and the Riddle, Gloria stumps Archie with a classic riddle:
A man and a son were in a car accident. The son was rushed into the emergency room. The doctor announced “I can’t operate on him. He’s my son.” The doctor was not the boy’s father. Why couldn’t the doctor operate?
Archie Bunker never could figure it out – but Edith did, and Archie did not like the answer! It aired on October 7, 1972 (the year I graduated from college), and it seems utterly amazing that an entire show could be built around a riddle that stumped everyone then, and would stump no one today.
Our oldest son is a first year medical school student. At his opening (very impressive) White Coat Ceremony, one of the speakers commented on how he remembered, years earlier, when women made up fewer than 8% of the class. They did not announce this year’s percentage, but my brother and I began our unofficial tally when it became obvious – this year’s class was clearly more than 50% female.
I thought of all this as I read about this upcoming debate. If I could be in New York next Tuesday (September 20, 2011), I would definitely want to attend the debate: Men Are Finished: the live Slate/Intelligence Squared debate on Sept. 20 at NYU. (Details here).
One of the two speakers for the motion is Hanna Rosin, author of the recent article The End of Men for The Atlantic. Here are some paragraphs from an interview in Slate with Ms. Rosin. I bolded some portions for emphasis:
Why are men finished, exactly? Rosin says they’ve failed to adapt to a modern, postindustrial economy that demands a more traditionally—and stereotypically—feminine skill set (read: communication skills, social intelligence, empathy, consensus-building, and flexibility). Statistics show they’re rapidly falling behind their female counterparts at school, work, and home. For every two men who receive a college degree, three women will. Of the 15 fastest-growing professions during the next decade, women dominate all but two. Meanwhile, men are even languishing in movies and on television: They’re portrayed as deadbeats and morons alongside their sardonic and successful female co-stars.
The question I always have to respond to (after her The Atlantic article) is, ‘[if women are taking over] why are there so many more men in power?’ If you look at Hollywood, or you look at the Fortune 500 list, or you look at politics, there’s a disproportionate number of men in the higher positions of power.
(Slate: Why is that, then?)
Men have been at this for 40,000 years. Women have been rising for something like 30 or 40 years. So of course women haven’t occupied every single [high-powered] position. How would that be possible? The rise of women is barely a generation old. But if you look at everything else, like the median, the big bulge in the middle, it’s just unbelievable what has happened: Women are more than 50 percent of the workforce, and they’re more than 50 percent of managers. It’s just extraordinary that that’s happened in basically one generation. It seems like whatever it is that this economy is demanding, whatever special ingredients, women just have them more than men do.
The overall message of the last 25 to 30 years of the economy is the manufacturing era is coming to an end, and men need to retool themselves, get a different education than the one they’ve been getting, and they’re not doing it.
One of the young guys I interviewed put it to me: “I just feel like my team is losing.” They feel like women have clocked them, and it came as a surprise to this young generation of men, so I don’t know that they can’t catch up. They might.
I wrote a piece in the Atlantic last week about the new TV season in which six different fall sitcoms are about men being surpassed by women.
I have presented synopses of a number of books on some of the difficulties/challenges women face in the workplace:
Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever
Womenomics: Write Your Own Rules for Success by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay.
Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You’re Worth by Mika Brzezinski
(and my colleague Karl Krayer presented another Babcok and Leschever book:
Ask For It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever.
It is true that women are still underpaid, in comparison with men doing the same job/work. And it is true that men are so very dominant at the very top of the ladder(s). The glass ceiling is still quite real. Consider this quote from the Brzezinski book:
“At the top of the capitalist pyramid, there are almost no women. The areas where the real money and power reside are still occupied almost exclusively by men… How many would picture a Wall Street titan in a skirt? Most of the gain in income and productivity for the whole economy over the past decade, even the past couple of decades, is in the top one percent, and that’s where the women aren’t penetrating.” (Chrystia Freeland, Financial Times).
But, as Ms. Rosin asserts, the tide is turning in so many ways. This may be good (I’m genuinely all for equality) for women, and for society overall, but the men have some serious soul-searching to do, in my opinion. Men, according to Ms. Rosin, have been too slow to adapt (see Darwin paraphrase above), while women have adapted with breathtaking speed to the new realities.
I think this will be quite a debate on September 20.
You can purchase our synopses of three of the books listed above (Women Don’t Ask is not available), with audio + handout, at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
What got us into this mess?
First, an admission. I, like all of you, have too many books on my “I should read this” list that I simply will never get to. In my case, I prepare a minimum of two new book synopsis presentations a month, and that means that there are other books that I simply do not have time to delve into. At this moment, the books that I am not getting to are books that try to answer these two questions, both related to our current economic meltdown and ongoing crisis:
Question number 1: What went wrong?
Question number 2: How do we fix it?
There are a lot, a mean a whole lot, of answers to the first question being thrown out for our consideration. (Not quite as many for the second question).
Business Week has a review up of one of the many new books tackling these questions. (One of the many I do not know when I will find time to read). The book is How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities by John Cassidy . (Read the review here).
Here’s a quote from the book (taken from the review):
Between the collapse of communism and the outbreak of the subprime crisis, an understandable and justified respect for market forces mutated into a rigid and unquestioning devotion to a particular, and blatantly unrealistic, adaptation of Adam Smith’s invisible hand.” And it was this faith, he goes on to say, that led Alan Greenspan, among others, to turn a blind eye to what was happening in the real world of money and business.
This book calls for greater government regulation as one part of a solution. Chris Farrell ends his review with this:
More important, the reader comes away persuaded that reality-based economics can play a critical role in what the 18th century British conservative Edmund Burke called “one of the finest problems in legislation, namely, to determine what the state ought to take upon itself to direct by the public wisdom, and what it ought to leave, with as little interference as possible, to individual exertion.”
Let’s hope the legislators in Washington share this principled view of their role. Cassidy makes a compelling case that a return to hands-off economics would be a disaster.
As I stated earlier in this post, there is much being written about what went wrong. A provocative piece in The Atlantic points to an unexpected but specific contributing cause: the role of pastors in fundamentalist/prosperity gospel churches on the sub-prime mortgage crisis. The article, Did Christianity Cause the Crash? by Hanna Rosin, argues this:
America’s mainstream religious denominations used to teach the faithful that they would be rewarded in the afterlife. But over the past generation, a different strain of Christian faith has proliferated—one that promises to make believers rich in the here and now. Known as the prosperity gospel, and claiming tens of millions of adherents, it fosters risk-taking and intense material optimism. It pumped air into the housing bubble. And one year into the worst downturn since the Depression, it’s still going strong.
The article chronicles how some banks partnered with some churches, especially some pastors, to help people get into houses. Houses they could not afford, and ultimately could not keep. Here’s the conclusion of the article, referencing Pastor Fernando Garay from Virginia:
And there is Garay’s kind of hope, which perhaps for many people better reflects the reality of their lives. Garay’s is a faith that, for all its seeming confidence, hints at desperation, at circumstances gone so far wrong that they can only be made right by a sudden, unexpected jackpot.
Once, I asked Garay how you would know for certain if God had told you to buy a house, and he answered like a roulette dealer. “Ten Christians will say that God told them to buy a house. In nine of the cases, it will go bad. The 10th one is the real Christian.” And the other nine? “For them, there’s always another house.”
I don’t know that there is one cause. As Scott Peck stated, it is “overdetermined.” The cause of most problems is overdetermined – that is, there is no one cause, there is a constellation of causes. And, thus, there is no one solution.
But finding the causes, so that we can avoid them in the future, and then finding the solutions, so that we can dig out of this mess, seems to be the necessary agenda at this time in our history.