Friday, October 31, 2014

Feminism in the Free Market

In this week’s WAPPP seminar, “Feminism Triumphed and Tamed: The Politics of Knowledge in Gender and Development,” Elisabeth M. Prügl, a Professor of International Relations and Political Science at the Graduate Institute of Geneva explored a critique of what some have come to call “free market feminism.”

While there have been many gains in the fight for gender equality in recent years, there is concern among some feminists that feminism itself has been co-opted by major institutions and by the forces of global capitalism. These scholars worry that feminism is no longer critiquing but rather supporting the existing power structures that have long disadvantaged women.

To analyze this deeper, Professor Prügl narrowed in on the largest global development institution, the World Bank. After conducting a close reading of World Bank documents from 2001 to the present, she argued that there are three dimensions of what happens to feminist ideas when they enter the neoliberal discourse: (1) integrations and instrumentalizations, (2) slippages, and (3) silences.

Firstly, feminism has been integrated into many institutions and into the idea of capitalism itself. To demonstrate this, Prügl used what she refers to as “the business case,” or the argument made by institutions that have a core mission apart from gender equality that more equality creates better economic outcomes. The narrative is not unique to the World Bank; it has become increasingly common in global institutions and on far-reaching development campaigns. 

Prügl posits that by focusing on the business case, we narrow the political imagination of what policies will actually improve women’s lives. We may ignore reproduction and childcare policies or oversimplify issues by making heteronormative assumptions and commitments.

Prügl argues that the problem definition is hugely important, as definitions are very tightly linked to solutions, and might even be defined after the solution has been found. She says that this is especially true in the case of neoliberalism, where it has already been decided that the market can solve everything.

Preferences also become an issue when discussing integration in the push for equal economic opportunity. Under conditions of equal opportunity, inequality results from preferences. Yet Prügl argues that it’s also possible that the outcomes an individual has experienced for her entire life shape her idea of what is and is not possible for her – and therefore actually change her preferences.

Prügl argued that slippages of feminist ideas occur in neoliberal institutions, with direct effects on markets, such as business registration and labor law. The idea of agency can also move away from its feminist definition in these circumstances. While those in the economic development sphere often define agency as the power and opportunity to take risks or seize opportunities, gender experts discuss it as the capacity to make decisions about one’s own life free of violence, retribution or fear – factors not always considered by economists.

Silence on feminist issues in the realm of global capitalism is also a concern for some. Prügl argued that gender expertise largely remains at the level of microeconomics, while the macroeconomics of equality are not discussed, and modernization, growth and globalization are taken as unquestioned goods. 

Prügl concluded by stating that gender mainstreaming has been both a failure and a success in recent years. She argued that the world changes due to the impetus from the knowledge and power we as individuals participate in validating, stressing the importance of a feminist critique of the current state of affairs. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Three E's to Reach Equality: Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship

At this week’s WAPPP seminar, Monika Queisser, the Head of the Social Policy Division at the OECD's Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, made the economic case for gender equality. Her presentation "Progress and Policies to Achieve Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship," was based off of the OECD 2012 report of a similar name. The report focuses on what Queisser calls “the three E’s” – Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship.

Education is a top focus of the report because it’s the pathway to employment across the world. The OECD reports that more girls are attending school than ever before. Every one-year increase in a population’s average education level accounts for a 9% increase in GDP per capita. But not all education is created equal. Women are severely underrepresented in STEM, where graduates have the most potential for future earnings and career development. Currently, 70% of engineering graduates are men. This contributes to the persistent global pay gap. Women earn an average of 16% less than men, and this gap rises to 21% among top wage earners.

Queisser argued that gender equality strengthens the labor force and boosts the economy for everyone in turn. The aging population and falling fertility rate in most OECD countries currently leads to a shrinking labor force. To remedy this, there is a need for more migration and/or for women to participate at higher rates. We must break down the economic barriers that are holding women back from full participation, Queisser argued. More women need to work, and those that want to should be able to work full-time.

The report found that when a couple has their first child, women tend to start reducing their paid work hours, while men start increasing them. Women make up for this loss in paid hours by increasing their unpaid work. Though policies could and should help change this, a cultural shift is also necessary. Even in countries with progressive maternity leave policies and strong social welfare, such as the Netherlands, there is still a cultural norm for women to work part-time.

In the report, the OECD laid out recommendations to achieve gender equality in these three areas. Gender equality in education attainment and choices should be promoted, though Queisser admitted that it's hard to alter the choices that children make because of deep-seated biases in our culture. Increasing the number of women in decision-making positions, instituting paid maternity leave, actively reduce the wage gap and implementing family friendly policies for women who are self-employed are all crucial for achieving gender equality in these areas. In addition, countries are encouraged to produce gender-specific data and monitor progress on this issue.

In closing, Queisser said her central question is always how the countries that are doing well got to where they are today. She used a popular example for how policy can dramatically change culture. Iceland, which created a positive tax credit for second earners who are women in the 1960s, consistently tops the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index. Queisser, a self-described optimist, argued that a combination of improved policy and shifts in our cultural norms could bring us closer to gender equality in this century.

Photo Source: OECD

Friday, October 17, 2014

Risky Business: How Environment Affects Women's Decision-Making

The concept of risk as a major factor in decision-making has been thoroughly examined since the 2008 financial crisis began. In this week’s WAPPP Seminar, “Risk in the background: How Men and Women Respond,” risk was examined using the lens of gender to better understand the causes and effects of the choices individuals make. Alexandra van Geen, a 2014-2015 WAPPP Fellow and Assistant Professor at Erasmus University's School of Economics in the Netherlands, discussed her research on the effect that gender has on risk-taking in different contexts.

While acknowledging that previous research states women are generally more risk averse than men, Professor van Geen pointed out that this assumption is based on experiments involving isolated risks. Decisions to take risks rarely occur in isolated situations, however, due to the fact that there is both background risk (current risk) and realized risk (past risk) to consider. Instead, van Geen sought to measure the effect that gender has on risk in more realistic decision-making situations.

In a study conducted at Harvard’s Decision Science Laboratory, 160 students split evenly by gender were placed in an experiment where a third party threw a die to determine each student's payoff. To simulate what van Geen refers to as “background risk,” each participant had a 50% chance of receiving either $2 or $30. In addition, there were two fixed sum groups, one that received the low payout of $2 and one that received the high payout of $30, automatically.

Some of van Geen’s findings confirmed what many already understand to be true about gender and risk: as a baseline, women are more risk averse and less risk-seeking than men. However, van Geen found that women take more risks after receiving the fixed sum or with the presence of background risk, i.e. the roll of the dice in the experiment.

This reduction in risk aversion can be explained by women's sensitivity to the income effect, as in, the potential to earn money without risking a loss. In fact, the effect of income and potential income from past wins (via winning in the dice roll) eliminated gender differences in risk-taking altogether. One potential explanation for this is that women are more sensitive to income because of their higher baseline risk aversion. Additionally, men may narrowly frame a decision and not consider past or present risk in the same way that women do.

The income effect does not explain all the behavior around risk, however, van Geen argued. The effects of the experience of winning in and of itself was also examined. Winning produces several outcomes: (1) emotion, (2) subject expectations (i.e. belief an individual will keep winning once they have, or "gambler's fallacy"), and (3) an elevated level of hormones, namely testosterone. This study found that men increased their risk-taking after winning, despite the fact that there was no apparent income effect on men, indicating that it was the experience of winning itself that altered future behavior.

From these experiments, van Geen concluded that women experience an income effect that reduces risk aversion, while men don't experience an income effect at all. This effect is transient, however, and women eventually return to their baseline risk preferences. The presence of background risk also decreases women’s risk aversion but not men’s, which can also be explained by the effects of income and potential income. Lastly, men increase risk-seeking behavior after winning, while there is no effect for women.

Risk can have serious impact on decision-making, which in turn affects policy, van Geen argued, closing with a few potential policy implications of her research. Policy changes could encourage women to make riskier microfinance investments that lead to better outcomes, while behavioral nudges could discourage male day traders from being overconfident and seek too much risk after a win. Understanding how context affects gender's relationship with risk may help us close these micro-gender gaps, which could then chip away at larger inequities.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hannah Riley Bowles on NBC's TODAY Show

This weekend, WAPPP research director, Hannah Riley Bowles appeared on NBC's TODAY Show to discuss Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella's comments about how women should not ask for a raise.

“It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.”

Hannah shares the research: that women are hesitant to ask for a raise in large part because of this type of social backlash. Until organizations and systems are fixed, women can overcome this bias by employing relational accounts when asking for a raise.

Watch Hannah's piece here:

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Contingent Power of Women in African Armed Groups

This week’s WAPPP seminar, “Rebel Queens and Black Diamonds: Gender Politics in African Armed Groups,” was named after two female rebel fighters, Rebel Queen of Sierra Leone and Black Diamond of Liberia. In the seminar, WAPPP fellow Zoe Marks discussed the research on gender politics within rebel groups that led her to these women, primarily with Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

Through her field work in Sierra Leone, which experienced a brutal civil war from 1991-2002, Marks found that 17% of women reported experiencing sexual assault in their lifetime, which she argues is likely an underestimate. However, Marks discussed how these statistics have created a paradigm in which women are victims and men are perpetrators that has led to the dominant discourse over sexual and gender-based violence. While sexual violence in Sierra Leone varied over time, it was less common than other forms of abuse, and women also participated in the violence.

Women and girls make up 10-30% of non-state armed groups worldwide, which is a much higher rate than in state militaries. Marks hypothesizes that this is due to the fact that rebel groups use broad based recruitment because they need all the people they can get. In addition to serving as soldiers and spies, women carry supplies and work on base producing and cooking food. They are also the wives and girlfriends of the male fighters, though a significant number of the relationships are forced and oftentimes violent, as was the case with the RUF.

To try to better understand the social-organizational context for women in rebel groups, Marks looked into the sources of female power in the RUF. She found that power largely existed on the individual level, not in groups or networks of women. As is traditional in Sierra Leonean culture, age and marital status contributed significantly to a woman's status in the group. Martial status, i.e. whether a woman was trained in warfare and had weapons herself, could also elevate her position. Marks argued that though some women were able to obtain military dominance, this rarely translated into political power once the conflict has ended. Instead, it was largely the commanders’ wives who were invited to peace talks.

She added that gender relations within rebel groups varies greatly, ranging from the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, with its progressive stance on gender equality, to the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda. Made famous in 2012 by Joseph Kony, LRA uses marriage as a reward for commanders and to clamp down on immoral behavior, with the understanding that civilian rape hurts the public image and mission of the group.

Marks closed by citing research from Hudson et al, which listed the micro-aggressions of global gender inequality as (1) lack of bodily integrity and physical security, (2) lack of equity in family law, and (3) lack of parity in decision-making. Marks argues that these issues aren't actually that micro; they all help explain women’s experiences in war and gender politics in rebel groups, both in western Africa and worldwide.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Making the Law Work for Working Women

When Sarah Iqbal, currently the Program Manager for Women, Business and the Law at the World Bank, first started working on development issues there in 2008, she says she often found herself explaining why the obstacles women faced when trying to start businesses and get jobs mattered on a global scale. Now, she says, there aren’t enough data to meet the demand for such information.

In this week’s WAPPP Seminar, “Women, Business and the Law: Removing Restrictions to Enhance Gender Equality,” Iqbal discussed the findings of the Women, Business and Law 2014 Report. The report scrutinizes the laws and regulations across the globe that affect men and women differently so as to limit women’s opportunities and incentives to work.

In a survey of 143 economies, 90% were found to have at least one legal difference restricting women’s economic opportunities. The restrictions came in a variety of forms, from property rights restrictions to long lists of jobs that women were prohibited from doing. 15 of these countries had laws allowing husbands to object to – and therefore restrict – their wives’ employment.

The study looked at seven indicators of gender economic equality to make these determinations: (1) ability to access institutions, (2) property use, (3) whether there were restrictions on type of employment, (4) whether incentives to work are provided, (5) ability to build credit, (6) court accessibility, and (7) the degree to which women are protected from violence.

The report found that there were three main obstacles for women’s advancement in business. The first is women’s lack of autonomy to interact with government institutions or conduct official transactions. Iqbal illustrated this by discussing “head of household” rights and responsibilities, such as paying taxes or sending children to school, which are usually delegated to men.

Second, Iqdal explained that marriage is often the trigger for such loss of rights. While single women have as many rights as single men in almost every country studied, women give up some of their autonomy upon marriage in many countries around the world. Lastly, limited property rights are a major factor contributing to women’s restricted economic opportunities, since property can be used as collateral for loans to start small businesses, for example.

Fortunately, there is hope that progress is being made on this issue. Within five years of the ratification of CEDAW, rates of reform in the countries studied had doubled. The report also found that having women legislators increased the likelihood of reform in that country. Over the two year period examined, Women, Business and the Law recorded 59 legal changes in 44 economies. Of these changes, 48 increased gender parity, 11 were neutral to gender parity. None reduced gender parity.

In addition to collecting this data, Women, Business and the Law are working with countries to make their laws less restrictive for women's economic opportunities. Iqbal closed by arguing that “what gets measured gets done,” and that despite the clear challenges ahead, a good first step is measuring the problem in order to tackle it.

Photo source: The World Bank

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Are Two a Crowd?

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has discussed how she was often confused with Sandra Day O’Connor when they sat on the Court together, despite not looking alike and holding significantly different ideological views. It’s important to note that this mistake was not made by passersby being interviewed on late night television but by the lawyers arguing before the Court itself.

This is one of many examples that Professor Denise Lewin Loyd employed at this week’s WAPPP seminar, "Are two heads always better than one? Stereotyping of minority duos in work groups," to explain the unique problems that individuals who are part of the minority on boards, task forces or committees often face. Loyd, an Associate Professor of Business Administration at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, argues that in many cases, being part of a minority duo on a larger team is even worse than being the only minority.

Past research indicates that single minorities within a group are often subject to “token pressure,” whether in the form of increased visibility, stereotyping or pressure to assimilate. Loyd conducted a study of 228 students on the issue, which concluded that this token pressure leads to discomfort, demonstrating that it’s a negative experience for the minority groups in question.

Though we might assume that token pressure would decrease when another minority member is added to the group, there is evidence to the contrary. Research featured in the Harvard Business Review even suggests that the presence of two women on a board may be seen as a subgroup and that those individuals have to give extra care to not look like they're conspiring.

Professor Loyd tested this hypothesis via an experiment she conducted with colleagues Mary Kern of Baruch College, CUNY and Judith White at Dartmouth. Using avatars, Loyd et al collected responses from 170 male participants to see how they viewed women in different settings in which they were the minority. Participants were asked to read a narrative involving a female employee who was part of a team where she was (1) the only woman, (2) one of two women or (3) one of three women on a team of seven, ten or 14. The decision-making and production tasks assigned were relatively agnostic so as to control for the fact that certain tasks may be perceived as more masculine or feminine.

Loyd et al found that women were viewed as significantly less potent and marginally warmer as part of a duo than while acting solo. While there are some limited situations where warmth is advantageous, being perceived as less potent is a clear negative. As part of a trio, women were not seen as less potent but were perceived as marginally warmer than as a duo. A second study involving female-minority groups performing a complex task revealed that men gave female duos worse performance evaluations, despite no significant difference in completion time and quality.

This research suggests that there is something uniquely negative about being part of a minority duo in a larger group. The phenomenon could be partly explained by the claim that minority duos make the category to which they belong more salient to the greater group. This could be a concern for women, who while still significantly underrepresented on corporate boards and in public office, are slowly gaining ground.