Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Greatest Sympathy

The person for whom I feel the greatest sympathy -- in all this debate about "innate differences" from the comments that Harvard's President Lawrence Summers made at last month's National Bureau of Economic Research -- is his baby daughter. The person whom I believe has learned and grown the most IS Harvard's President Lawrence Summers.

The comment that was attributed to Dr. Summers concerned one of his twin daughter's response to the toy trucks that he gave her to play with. Apparently, he doesn't give her dolls, but gives her trucks. It is said that he described how she referred to the two trucks as "Daddy" and "Baby".

What was the purpose of his anecdote? Was it that he was fascinated by her creativity in linking her current conscious world to the smaller world of the toys? Or was he using the anecdote to tell us what he knew to be "innate" difference -- that he found fault with what she did -- that she was WRONG, damnit. They're TRUCKS, and let me tell you how you are supposed to play with TRUCKS.

Imagine growing up female in the home of someone who insists -- just as you are struggling to come to terms with language, with external concepts in space, with shapes and colors, and movement -- on imposing THEIR world-view on you, THEIR definition of what you encounter. Imagine growing up in a world that literally thrust its views down your throat or into your consciousness.

How would you like to grow up the world that tells you, as you get older, DON'T throw the ball like a girl! Do it MY way! The RIGHT way.

How would you like to grow up in the world that tells you -- NO STOP! Little girls should do THIS. Nice girls ought to do THAT. Act like a lady! Be feminine! Do it MY way. Either get that through your pretty little head or else get off my planet. Either do it the way I would do it, or get out of my company.

How would you like to grow up, trying to learn mathematics or science, while in the background a chorus is chanting ever loudly, girls can't do that. Girls don't like that. Girls aren't going to make it. AND, by the way, any man who behaves like a girl -- a girlie man -- is condemned to rot in the same hell!

Yes, we try to tell ourselves that we don't behave this way toward girls anymore. We would like to believe that we don't say these things to girls anymore. We want to believe that equal opportunity in fact exists in our world today. Yet, when we see the evidence -- whether it be the words of the Governor of the 7th largest economy in the world or those of a father telling his daughter, in the 21st century, to do it MY way in order to be MY perfect daughter, we should weep for the daughter, for the father, for the nation and for ourselves.

We should weep because we all lose when any one of us attempts to contort any young mind down only one path. For, if we attempt to contort that mind, what is the likelihood that we are also attempting to control and contort all of the other minds that we encounter -- perhaps the young men who come to our universities, probably the young women who come to our universities, and maybe even all of our citizens to come to just one view.

Do these institutions exist in order to enable our young minds to evolve -- very much as in the family? Or do they exist to channel the minds of our youth into one, supposed great perfect thought process known only to the Wise Leader?

Fortunately, just because Harvard's President Lawrence Summers made it to the position of leadership of a wealthy American educational entity does not mean that he is done learning. In fact, the best leaders are those who -- upon reaching such a height -- reflect upon that ascension and that position and realize that the real learning has only just begun. Thus it is that Dr. Summers is now the child he once thought he was instructing. His daughter will become his teacher. He will become her student. She will show him a path he has not seen before.

And they both will be richer for the experience. As will we all.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Off With His Head . . . NOT!

The National Organization of Women wants Lawrence Summers' resignation. A writer from Human Events Online says "There, see? Feminism reveals its true colors". Laura Bush says, "We need to help the boys!"

Stay on message. Stop sounding like the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland: "Off with his head!"

It took an "intellectual tsunami" to begin to educate Summers, Harvard, and may others - apparently -- about the realities that women face as they pursue advanced levels in the math, science, engineering, technology, and medical careers. I do not want to throw that education away.
    "Mr. Summers, an economist and a former treasury secretary, acknowledged that he had been hearing plenty of reaction himself. 'I have learned a great deal from all that I have heard in the last few days,' he wrote in his statement. 'The many compelling e-mails and calls that I have received have made vivid the very real barriers faced by women in pursuing scientific and other academic careers.' "

Summers at least is a quick study. And he's on the mat. The goal should be to pin him down to specifics -- what are you doing for women and minorities, now?

Does it make sense to fire the guy who has the ability to channel $25 Million from the Harvard endowment into better recruitment efforts for women and minorities? Do we want to wait while we "retrain" or "re-enlighten" the next guy to head Harvard?

Who really thinks that a women in his place would, today, have the power to make constructive change happen as Summers COULD now that he seems to understand the realities that women have faced as they aspired to advanced positions in math, science, engineering at top academic institutions?

We should realize that, inadvertently, Summers started the largest research project, ever -- to document the scale and scope of discrimination that women face at higher academic levels in the sciences. The emails and phone calls that the office of the President is receiving form the basis of that research. I encourage Harvard to take that information, ensure privacy of the senders, organize and document the facts as they are presented. Review the findings with a representative group of academic professionals capable of evaluating the information: women AND men of vision. Consider including those women who walked out on Summers. Together, come up with substantive recommendations that Harvard AND other leading American institutions of higher learning can consider to improve the situation.

If we believe that Harvard is the ONLY place where education of leadership must occur, we are being naive. If we were to fire all of the men whom we need to educate about the realities of discrimination against women, there'd be too few men left in leadership positions in America, today.

Let's also examine the questions as Lawrence Sax did this past Sunday, in his L.A. Times preview of his forthcoming book: "Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences". Perhaps there is scientific reality behind differences. We can't ignore the realities. But, what do we do with that understanding? If one teaching method makes us lose out on real intellectual growth for a significant share of our student population, should not we consider some alternatives?

Norman Mailer, in another article over the weekend, talked about the adverse impacts of television and commercials on the development of the minds. Maybe there's some truth in his work, too. Are we just going to slam the door in his face and not examine his message? His alternatives?

We ARE leaving a lot of children behind -- perhaps half of the student body. And we're not going to get them back and interested in learning by just "testing the bejeebers" out of everyone in hopes that that will solve the problems.

And yelling at each other won't do the job, either.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Intellectual Tsunami

Lawrence H. Summers' statement on January 14, 2005 in a speech before the National Bureau of Economic Research (a Cambridge non-profit economic research organization) shines a bright light on the reality of discrimination against women at top levels of our economy - academic, scientific, as well as in the professional marketplace.

I recommend that intelligent women everywhere resist the temptation to shoot the messenger. Instead, welcome this as an opportunity, finally, to talk about the under-representation of women in too many areas of economic and political life.

Before anything else, get the facts. (Don't rely on others to tell you what to think Dr. Summers stated.)

According to the NY Times version of Dr. Summers' speech:

"Summers discussed possible reasons so few women were on the science and engineering faculty at research universities.... Among his hypotheses were:

  • that faculty positions at elite universities required more time and energy than married women with children were willing to accept;
  • that innate sex differences might leave women less capable of succeeding at the most advance mathematics and
  • that discrimination might play a role."
Also, read Dr. Summers' January 19, 2005 letter on the Harvard web site:

Rather than light into Lawrence, instead I advocate the following response:

First: FRAME the ISSUE - keep the buzz alive

Commend Dr. Summers for bringing these issues into the public limelight, for allowing us - finally - to discuss the failings of the marketplace and hopefully to begin the more important work of remedying the situation where only half of our mental and intellectual resources are given due measure for the work that this nation needs to do.

An issue that is hidden, not talked about, will never be addressed. We must keep the dialog and the buzz about his issue moving forward. We need the goodwill of people like Dr. Summers and other like-minded men who know the reality and would truly like to see it remedied.

A key goal in our response to radio, newspaper, and other media inquiries is to keep the issue on the table. Don't let the issue run away. Don't let it sink into the quagmire of "whining, crying and belly-aching" that shock-jocks like Rush will try to make of it.

Respond civilly, responsibly, and cogently with the cool demeanor of reason, logic, and all the data that we can bring to bear to refocus the issue on moving towards solutions.

During the rest of the month of January, women should write and call talk radio or other media outlets and AGREE with Dr. Summers that this IS a PROVOCATIVE issues that is appropriate in an era where we are trying to take burkas off of women in Afghanistan, but we are not removing the veil of secrecy about U.S. discriminatory practices against women until and unless (REGRETABLY) someone files a class action lawsuit against Wal Mart.

The time to talk about these issues is outside the courtroom where we can see all the data, look at the facts, and construct viable solutions to what we all agree are real problems.

Second: DEAL IN DATA - keep the facts and research coming.

During the month of February, I recommend a strategy that emphasizes, in your writing and commentary to the media, the large volume of research in this field. This is the opportunity to bring out the data that confirms the past patterns of discrimination and our substantive need to remedy the economic and social imbalances. Data and research that highlights real and substantive solutions will be at a premium.

Use Dr. Summer's three points to focus the data and focus yourself on only one issue at a time and bring the data to bear.

For example, the first point is that women won't work the long hours that appear to be required to succeed. This can be addressed alternatively with date that deals with:

  • does the evidence show that ONLY married women in science and engineering are discriminated against and that SINGLE women in those fields are not? (Single women presumably would have all the time in the world, yet they too are not in great numbers in those fields.)
  • the evidence from the US Census Survey of the American Family Time Utilization suggests that it is men who choose to avoid working in the home, for the benefit of the children, so perhaps we could begin to discuss how to re-allocate the family time to create better economic opportunities.
  • the evidence about women and spouses who do a better job of balancing work-family well, together as a team, demonstrates a positive impact on not only the productivity of each, but also produce better results for child-care and development.
  • finally, the hypothesis yet to be tested is whether men's greater perceived allocation of hours on the job (being merely "seen" in the workplace) converts to real efficiency or greater productivity of comparable work hours; are men just showing up? and are women doing more real work in fewer hours? Show us the research.

Lawrence's second point is extremely volatile and reminiscent of the old arguments that whites somehow were genetically superior to blacks. "Girls are not good at math." This argument can be addressed in a variety of ways:

  • math, science, and engineering education, historically, has been taught by men; the teaching content, style, methods, and presentation ALL reflects essentially one method of intellectual discourse. That method may not be well suited to the brain structure of females - that structure is medically known to use both hemispheres of the brain rather than merely the left hemisphere of the brain. Much more research needs to be done in this arena - it won't be to find out who has the better brain as much as it is to find out how smart people (of either gender) can receive the large body of information they need to reach tremendously intuitive leaps of intelligence.
  • women also were excluded from the medical profession for years. Tales are told of how women would send their brothers or spouses into medical school classes to take notes for them and come back and tell them what they learned. Today, women represent a majority of applicants, enrollees, and graduates of medical schools - now that there are doors open to them. The same logic would suggest that if we create more opportunities for women in the math, engineering and science fields of endeavor, women will succeed there as well.
  • many women have bought into the hype that "math is tough", as the original speaking Barbie Doll tried to re-enforce on little girls. Yet, repeatedly, when females encounter a teacher or mentor who can communicate with them about complex ideas -- math, engineering or science - females have shown they are as capable as men to come up with incredibly creative solutions. That includes such examples as the DNA helix - perhaps if women were given credit for their work, they might be motivated to continue.

His third point certainly is provocative: is it discrimination? or is it something else? We must give Dr. Summers credit for this statement if nothing else. For a man to suggest that DISCRIMINATION exists is a huge admission. Therefore, let us begin to look at the data to test the hypothesis that discrimination may or may not exist.

  • research at the University of Michigan surveyed the staff and salaries for the entire campus and found that salary levels were roughly even at the lowest levels where women represented a high share of the staff; but at about the $100,000 salary levels, the number of women dropped off precipitously. A number of other studies have demonstrated the same patterns: in the securities industries, communications industries, in the engineering professions, as well as in class action law suit cases.
  • boards of directors of major U.S. corporations have practiced "tokenism" in selecting women for director positions as well as lax in promoting women up the ranks of corporate management development programs. Now, directors are being held personally and financially responsible for their corporate duties which will include whether or not they allowed discrimination against women employees within corporate offices to continue.
  • what is discrimination against women and why does it exist? What are the discriminators really afraid of? Do discriminators fear women? Do they fear women will compete more effectively? take over? Do they fear that they will be "softened" by women? Do they simply prefer "homogeneity", being among their own? What is the cost of the failure to diversity?

The goal of a focus on "dealing in data" is to ensure that there are more women in the pipeline of experts on the subject. Ensure that you are a respected and well-documented resource on an aspect of this topic. Ensure that you are the go-to person with the facts.


Up to now, women might have tried to be gracious and civil and not challenge, directly, the sources of authority out of respect or concern that the only inevitable result of a confrontation is likely to be a battle. "Women opting out", certainly in much of the corporate environment, appears more related to women being sick and tired of having to play the games that they saw there.

Dr. Summers may have just opened the Pandora's Box for the math, science, engineering and academic debate about discrimination of women. Thus, he may have done us one great favor by inviting all to come in and discuss this issue.

And, as Pandora found out, belatedly, at least we have HOPE.