Revolutionary Times

Smoke out sexism


I want to see the end of all the barriers that get in the way of the empowerment of girls and young women – for the sake of all of us.

At the truly nasty end, we are all horrified by Boko Haram kidnapping hundreds of girls to prevent their education, or the Taliban shooting Malala Yousafzai in the head for campaigning for girls’ schooling. The girls in Nigeria have still not been freed to return to school. And there are still girls in many parts of the world who feel it is unsafe to go to school. There is plenty to do.
In the UK, we may congratulate ourselves that our girls go on to make up around 60% of those graduating from university. But the pay gap has widened in the past 10 years, with young men fresh out of college earning significantly more than young women. And that is before the glass ceiling comes into play. The latest figures show that only 8% of FTSE 100 companies have female executive directors.

“In the UK, we may congratulate ourselves that our girls go on to make up around 60% of those graduating from university.”

The disempowering of girls and young women partly continues at the mundane level of everyday sexism. We still have a long way to go to shape the assumptions about young women, motherhood and family – and even further to go in our leadership role models: the alpha-male known for IQ not EQ, for control not collaboration. The playing field is not level and the match has been fixed.
So let’s sweep away all of that. We have so much to gain.

Fascinating and detailed research by Anita Woolley and Thomas Malone at MIT shows that the more women there are in a team, the smarter it is, collectively. It’s the result of hormones, emotional intelligence and social factors. Team diversity is not just ethical – we now know it is also much better for the performance of the organisation. Research by those such as John Coates (in The Hour Between Dog and Wolf) shows that women are better equipped for long-term, strategic thinking, take more time before acting, and are less aggressively competitive and less risk-prone. The banking crash would probably not have happened if more of the financial industry – indeed, any of it – had been run by women.

Let’s celebrate this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala (a school girl whose henna tattoos were of scientific equations) by pushing away barriers to the empowerment of girls and young women. And that means us men have to stand up and do more in support of this.

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