International Women’s Day is perhaps the only holiday where Scrooge is the dominant figure.
The official website for the day, which is celebrated this Friday, features corporate sponsors and sleek presentation and is mostly an anodyne celebration of female achievements and oblique references about what more needs to be done. In the media and among activists, it’s mostly about the gender gap and #Metoo. But arguably, based on current long-term trends, women are inevitably going to take the lead.
There’s no denying a gender gap in almost every conceivable measure of status, power and pay. In Israel, women held only 12 percent of top jobs at the biggest companies traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange in 2017. The figure only reached the double digits because women account for a third of top jobs at banks. In other sectors, it was in the single digits.
Even in high-tech, which likes to think of itself as cutting edge in every respect, a Startup Nation Central survey found that only 16 percent and 19 percent of high-tech companies formed over the previous four years had at least one female founder.
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Israel hasn’t done so well by its women. Although the figures aren’t quite comparable, a 2016 World Bank study showed that women accounted for 19 percent of top company executives globally. The rate varied between regions but nowhere were women close to 50 percent. The East Asia-Pacific region, not one particularly known for its feminism, women accounted for a third of the top managers; in the Middle East it was five percent.
After five decades, the equivalent of more than two generations, the fact that the feminist movement doesn't have more to show for it is hardly encouraging.
Gender parity, or even something approaching, it is taking time, but I have little doubt that time is on women’s side and against men. The change is frustratingly gradual but is has been evident for some time in the classroom. It will inevitably reach the boardroom.
Whatever you might think about the reality and determinations of old boys’ networks and glass ceilings as barriers to women, they will inevitably crumble in the face of a tidal wave of raw numbers. I’ll take just two, one from the United States and one from Israel, but the fact is they reflect global trends.
Just the stats, ma'am
In American high schools, girls outperform boys. In a self-reported measures of their grades, 12th-grade girls averaged a GPA of 3.128 versus 3.030 for boys and, as the researchers noted, the figures almost certainly understated the gap because the dropout rate for boys is so high and they weren’t included in the survey.
At Israeli universities, women outnumber men by a wide margin. Figures for the 2017-18 academic year show that women accounted for 58.1 percent of all students getting a bachelor’s degree. Among those pursuing a master the rate was 62.7 percent and for a doctorate, 52.8 percent.
Admittedly the highest rate of female students was in the traditional women’s field of education while in the hard sciences, women were well under 50 percent. But women accounted for around 60 percent of those studying business and medicine and 52.5 percent of those in law. In biology they were close to 69 percent and were even a majority studying agriculture.
We live in a world where power, privilege and pay go to those with the right degrees, skill sets and personal networks, as well as the right formal credentials, in other words those who attend universities and get degrees in the right fields. The men who are not getting a higher education will not just be at a huge disadvantage, they will be out of the race.
When scholars and activists try to understand the limited progress women have made, they often point to qualities that girls are conditioned for that hold them back later in life. Among those are personal discipline, patience, attention to detail and a preference for cooperation over competition. Boys are taught and respected for having the exact opposite characteristics.
While those differences are narrowing, they still exist – but they are to the advantage of women. A high-tech, knowledge-based economy requires people with a traditionally female personality more than it needs those with a traditionally male one. The role of pure physical strength has become marginal.
Just look at agriculture, a field of study that in Israel today attracts more women than men. A century ago it was all about heavy physical labor, including the jobs that were mechanized. Today agriculture is as much about research and development and technology as it is about sowing and plowing. Israel’s emerging medical cannabis industry is just one small example.
If the gender revolution isn’t happening quickly, one reason is that advancement is basically a zero-sum game. If there are more women executives, ipso facto there will be fewer male ones and few will take demotion or reject a career move upward in the name of equality. But more importantly, women show tendencies that do hold them back, most notably a strong non-preference for hard-number fields and lack demonstrable lack of self-confidence.
How much the latter will affect the long-term trend is hard to predict, but by International Women’s day 2029 there will almost certainly more to celebrate. By then we’ll be worrying about how to help men catch up.