Another day, another heartbreaking study on the gender gap. As more men zoom past women on the corporate ladder, and fewer women scale the pay gap, it’s time to trump corporate Darwinism if we’re all to win
“If you could be alive in any era of human civilisation, which time period would you choose?”
It was a simple question that cropped up during a particularly fascinating conversation I had with a history buff friend. But my answer was even more simple.
I’d choose to be alive here and now.
And like me, as a woman of colour in her twenties, my friend understood that it’s not a very comforting notion to think that this is the pinnacle of human civilisation… so far.
The historical conundrum
For millennia, society and science have colluded to explain away gender roles, asserting that women aren’t as intelligent, hardworking or ambitious as men.
If women were a minority, it could form a theory as to why they are constantly marginalised, but we make up more than half of the world’s population. So what gives?
Many religions, laws and cultures around the world persist in proving that women are beta-humans, forbidding them from competing, or even really existing, in a man’s world.
Taking female infanticide and cultural imprisonment out of the question, the corporate world in the assuredly ‘liberal’ West still retains the very sexism that it condemns in other geographies.
Two Khasi women in traditional attire. They have a lot to smile about, as the dominant gender responsible for earning for the household and holding political office.
As convenient as it may be, gender inequality is not an East versus West problem. It’s not an issue only affecting the developing world. And it’s definitely not only one relegated to the poorer segments of society.
The issue of equality is global, and the sooner it is culled in corporate culture, the better the chance of survival for the human race.
The flawed premise of corporate Darwinism
The corporate world still clings to Darwinism to explain away the abilities and skills of women.
For 150 years, the theory of natural selection helped to explain why males are ‘wired’ to be more aggressive, and understandably more competitive than females.
It was considered part of the hunter-gatherer persona, while women were stay-at-home nurturers, evolutionarily programmed to care rather than compete.
If evolution is responsible for a lack of competitiveness in women, we cannot expect to see equality in the workplace for another few centuries, if not millennia.
This theory supports the current status quo as to why there are fewer women in leadership roles than men, and why, even when they get there, they are paid less for equal work.
This premise assumes that women cannot produce equal work because they are not genetically equal.
If women are less productive and generate lower quality work, the principles of capitalism and meritocracy dictate that they should be paid to match their lesser output.
If Darwin said it, it must be true!
Don’t get me wrong! Darwin was a visionary and a genius. His research has formed the foundations of natural history, and thanks to him, we’re that much closer to understanding who we are and where we came from. As a species.
As far as gender goes, the balance of nature and nurture pokes gaping holes in the go-to assumption that women are weaker because of evolution.
The world is generally patriarchal and patrilineal, but there exists small pockets of civilisations that are matriarchal, like the Khasi people of northeast India.
By studying gender relations, motivations and struggles in these societies, researchers have debunked the myth that nature dictates gender roles.
Researchers behind one of my favourite books on the subject, The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life, analysed the traditions, cultural practices, and everyday activities of men and women in the northeast Indian Khasi community as well as the fiercely patriarchal Maasai people in east Africa.
Amid the early stirrings of a men’s movement for the disenfranchised and oppressed men in the Khasi hills, the researchers realised that perhaps men in matriarchal societies felt similarly to women in patriarchal societies.
The big reveal
Researchers took a simple game of tossing tennis balls into a bucket three metres away to the Khasi and the Maasai.
Participants have one choice: either earn a small certain payment for their performance in the game or earn a much larger payment for their performance if they also bested a randomly chosen competitor.
Maasai men engaged in a traditional dance, Adumu
The results were invariably prove that gender roles and expectations have a lot more to do with nurture, than nature.
The Maasai women and Khasi men had very little interest in competing. Only 26 per cent of Maasai women and 39 per cent of Khasi men chose to go for the larger rewards option.
The more ‘dominant’ gender, the Maasai men and Khasi women displayed similarities in how they viewed competition. 50 per cent of Maasai men and 54 per cent of Khasi women chose the competitive option with larger rewards,
The research suggests that these reversed results are proof positive that when raised to believe they are the dominant gender, people tend to equate competition as a sign of strength and a display of superiority.
A good reminder
When proponents of the status quo throw the evolutionary argument in my face, this research is my go-to defence.
Competition, productivity, intelligence are all natural traits in human beings. If men are more productive than women because evolutionarily, they hunted and gathered more, then name one modern job that tests endurance in hunting and gathering today.
The evolution excuse is just that.
As human beings proven to be one of the most ingenious and innovative species on the planet, it’s time to rise beyond centuries-old excuses and encourage an environment that properly nurtures young boys and girls to see competition, collaboration, hard work and analytical thought as core skills.
Let’s leave our reproductive organs out of this.