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Something of a hot topic in recent times has been the claim that there is disparity between men and women in the workplace. This disparity is claimed to be represented by differences in employment terms and in career opportunities.
The primary measure used in debates in the media is that of outcome – how many (or what percentage) of a sex is employed in whichever position of employment is being debated.
Measuring equality on outcome is extremely misleading and is based on unrealistic presumptions (Stanford, Equality of Opportunity and Education, Link here).
Although focusing on the topical debate concerning differences between male and female, the same principles apply to any measure of outcome based on difference between groups.
If the desired outcome is an equal split of employees between the two sexes then there must be a corresponding number of applicants equally split between the sexes. The same is true whatever percentages are used to measure the outcome – there must be a corresponding number of applicants representing the desired split in the outcome.
In employment terms, for the desired outcome to be valid each and every applicant must have EXACTLY the same qualifications, and must have EXACTLY the same experience required for the position. Measuring on quality of outcome makes three main presumptions:
- Presumption one: Applicants are split equally between groups (in this case male and female).
- Presumption two: All applicants have exactly the same qualifications.
- Presumption three: All applicants have exactly the same experience.
If any of those three main presumptions are not met then the measurement of equality based on outcome is invalid – junk.
Those three main presumptions are quite concrete in their effect on the outcome measure. There are other factors that may not be directly related to the position that can affect whether someone is employed in a position or not.
These factors will depend on the type of employment, but some examples are:
- Availability to work additional hours.
- Availability to travel – perhaps at short notice.
- Ability to communicate effectively.
- Practicalities of working from home.
- Ability to travel to and from work locations.
- Membership of organisations (professional or otherwise)
- Voluntary activities.
- Following further education.
- Leisure activities and hobbies
- And so on…
There is the person’s previous work history (if any) and how well they coped with previous working environments and professional demands to also take in to account. Lastly there is the subjective interpretation of the person’s demeanour and presentation at interview (or during the recruitment process).
The possible number of differences between groups or people renders the quality of outcome measure useless and wholly inaccurate. The data still remains highly questionable (if not more so) when systems are implemented in an attempt to make the data more reliable. Junk in – junk out.
In order to facilitate a specific outcome (which in this case is an equal split between sexes) whoever is providing the opportunity would have to make significant compromises in standards and quality in order to attract sufficient numbers of whichever sex is claimed to be underrepresented. In effect, reducing the quality of applicants to such a degree that recruiting inappropriate applicants could (depending on the function) have serious ramifications on a range of much wider issues.
As a hypothetical example, a company is recruiting one new employee for a specific position to enable the company to maintain it’s function and standards. The position requires that the candidates meet specific criteria to maintain service or product standards. Let’s say that the candidates must have qualifications X, Y, and Z, and a minimum of five years’ experience.
- Candidate One: Qualifications are X, Y, and Z with six years’ experience in the SAME role.
- Candidate Two: Qualifications are W, X, Y, and Z with five years’ experience in a SIMILAR role.
- Candidate Three: Qualifications X, Y, and X, with five years’ experience in a SIMILAR role.
- Candidate Four: Qualifications X, Y, and X, with ten years’ experience in the SAME role.
All other things being equal, candidate four is the most likely best candidate based on qualifications and experience combined. In this example the sex of the applicant is immaterial – there is no requirement for the employee to be any particular sex. Anyone of either sex can apply for the position because here we have equality of OPPORTUNITY. Equality of outcome is immaterial.
If we take the same scenario and have to create an artificial environment where there is equality of outcome the situation becomes far more complicated.
The company has nine employees and is recruiting one more. Currently there are five males and four females employed. Therefore, to comply with quality of outcome criteria the company needs to recruit a female.
The company starts a campaign targeting females inviting applicants for the position. Note: Depending on the jurisdiction, specifically targeting one sex over another may be illegal.
The company receives three applications from females. However, none of them meet the minimum criteria for the position.
The company can do one of two things. It can continue it’s recruitment campaign in the hope that a suitably qualified female candidate will be attracted, or it can reduce the criteria for the position.
Either way, the function of the company is compromised. It will be forced to either operate with a reduced number of employees for longer than necessary, or it will have someone in a position who is not qualified to perform their function. Neither is desirable, and in some instances may be downright dangerous, or place further burden on the company by implementing systems to compensate for the employee’s lack of qualification and experience.
Another significant factor that throws the equality of outcome theory in to chaos is the natural inclination of males and females.
We often hear in the press that some organisation is claiming that some employment sector is ‘overrepresented’ by one sex or the other – usually male in current debates.
The inference of ‘overrepresented’ is hugely misleading. It presumes that there is an equal divide of interest between men and women in whatever the employment is, and also implies that the criteria for equality of outcome are valid – which they are not.
A hypothetical example could be that far more men are employed as truck drivers than women. If we use the term ‘overrepresentation’ it presumes that there are an equal number of men and women who want to drive trucks.
The reality is that women who want to drive trucks drive trucks – it is that simple.
We could factually state that women are ‘overrepresented’ in nursing. Again, the inference is that there are an equal number of men and women interested in nursing as a career.
The fact is that a man who wants to take up nursing as a career does so.
Research clearly shows that psychologically, men and women are inclined to have different areas of interest. Males tend to be interested in things and women tend to be interested in people. The fact that more men are employed in areas working with machines and more women are employed in caring professions is both logical and natural behaviour.
(One of a number of research projects is ‘Men and Things, Women and People: A Meta-Analysis of Sex Differences in Interests.’ Rong Su and James Rounds, 2009. American Psychological Association 0033-2909/09/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0017364. Link to research paper in pdf format here).
There is a false perception that as society becomes more ‘equal’ so there will be a corresponding equal representation of male and female across all sectors of society, and on the surface may seem the logical outcome.
It is true that as society has become more equal in opportunities for males and females the number of each sex in the workplace has become more balanced, with far more women being in a position to work than they were 50 or 60 years ago.
However, a consequence of more equality of opportunity has resulted in a surprising result. The difference in the number of men or women employed in positions where they have a natural inclination increases dramatically. The representation of men in positions more concerned with things (mechanics, engineering, and so on) increases, as do the number of women in people-centred position (nursing, care, childcare, and so on). Two recent studies confirm previous studies that people are far more likely to choose employment that fits their natural inclination when they have free choice.
(‘Relationship of gender differences in preferences to economic development and gender equality.’, Falk and Hermie, 2018 Link here, and ‘Sex differences in personality are larger in gender equal countries: Replicating and extending a surprising finding.’, Giolla and Kajonius, 2018, Link here.)
Equality of outcome purposely (or should that be ‘politically’) ignores scientific fact about the behavioural and psychological differences between the sexes.
The false overview generated through using equality of outcome as a measure will misinform the public and organisations who base their opinions and actions on that data. It can also lead to the groups involved having the false perception that they are discriminated against in some way, which can overshadow the fact that there are opportunities for the group if they choose to take them.
People who don’t have the time or resources to look past the claims will (naturally) readily accept them as true – especially if the claims appeal to their emotions and are presented by some perceived ‘authority’.
In our modern progressive societies, we should concentrate our efforts on EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY which is logical and beneficial to both sexes.
Equality of opportunity means that anyone, regardless of sex, race, religion, and so on, can take advantage of opportunities PROVIDED they meet whatever minimum criteria is in place. This then ensures that the quality of candidates is maintained and ensures that people who put personal effort in to developing their skills have real and meaningful opportunities – which they do in most modern societies.
Society will be engaging in very dangerous practices if it starts to implement different minimum standards based on which group someone belongs to. Minimum standards – whether that is in employment, gaining access to education, or other important areas of society – are established for a reason, and that reason is for the maintenance of quality and to aid society in moving forward. If we start to reduce standards for no other reason that to cater for a specific group’s shortcomings quality will be reduced and evolution of society will slowly grind to a halt becoming a reflection of the lowest common denominator.
Equality can not be enforced through measuring outcomes. Equality is attained through offering people equality of opportunity. Whether they choose to accept or take advantage of those opportunities is up to them, and people will choose what suits them.