Small decisions can have a big impact on gender equality

HOW SMALL DECISIONS CAN HAVE A BIG IMPACT ON HIGH ACHIEVING WOMEN.

I was listening to a very interesting podcast by Pamela Stone, a US sociology professor, who has studied the gender differences of 25,000 Harvard Business School graduates (mostly MBA’s). The conclusions debunk some myths (at least within this group), such as women opting out or scaling back work when they have children. In fact women leaving the MBA programme wanted similar levels of success as men, however it was in the outcomes where the differences occur.

In passing, Pamela mentioned that small decisions can reduce women’s financial bargaining power with their partners and can have long term consequences that favour men’s careers over women’s. We’ve heard of the chaos theory concept that a butterfly wing flap can cause a hurricane thousands of miles away, so I was wondering if indeed small decisions can have big impacts on careers.

When playing in poker tournaments I see the cumulative result of small decisions. Each player starts equal with the same number of chips but some simply play too many hands or just play badly. Over time this reduces their relative power and ultimately they get knocked out early by people with more chips (power).

DO MEN AND WOMEN MAKE DIFFERENT SMALL DECISIONS THAT HAVE A LONG TERM IMPACT?

I think perhaps they do. Take childcare for example, who in the relationship is called by the school when there is a problem? Who takes your child to the doctors or goes home (on time!) to spend time with your children? Who decides not to socialise or go on “optional” week-end events to spend more time with their family?

Each of these decisions, while important for the family, can have an impact on a career. Missing out on the optional opportunities to build stronger relationships with your colleagues or being considered committed to your company or a project you are working on, could have a long term effect.

“If you want promotion, do every extracurricular task that you can. Don’t worry about the quality of the work, as it is irrelevant.” (Sunday Times, 15/2/15).

I saw this quote recently from an employee at UK banking group Lloyds Bank which would seem to confirm this effect. The sad thing is that you don’t even have to be good; you just need to be there.

And once the small differences begin to create a difference in perception at work and then remuneration between a woman and her partner, the financial imperative begins to prioritize the partner’s career over the woman’s.

SO IF FAMILY RESPONSIBILITIES ARE NOT SHARED EQUALLY THEN UNEQUAL CONSEQUENCES WILL RESULT.

What is the conclusion from this? It isn’t very romantic but if a relationship was a poker game then the optimal approach is to make sure that before you have children you establish the rules of childcare with your partner.