Fortunately I only had one mid-term exam to study for – Diversity Management and Policy – which I wrote this morning.  This course has been a highly interesting and enlightening one, like a perfect storm between socio-economics and politics.  I’ve got a story idea brewing based on what I’ve learnt in that course which I will likely publish on my friend Roxy’s website next month. However I thought I’d share some interesting info from the course (as I now unload this knowledge post morning exam).

South Africa is ranked 17th in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index.  This is really not bad considering developing world status and is aided greatly by the number of women represented at all levels of government and politics in the country.  Why is it important to ensure women are equally represented in political structures?  Quite simply women represent approximately half the population so they bring to political light issues that affect 50% of the country.  In addition studies show that women in government tend to spend quite differently from men, electing to focus on public health and welfare issues and prioritising education.  Women in government therefore legitimize democracy and ensure better diversity which is strongly correlated to better circulation of alternative viewpoints and more creativity in problem-solving with higher chances of innovation.

I didn’t realise how many economic formulas, graphs and terms have been derived for different types of discrimination.  Maths proves that having a taste for discrimination makes your business less competitive and at high risk of failure over the long term.  Economics demonstrates that women who participate in the labour force are essential for the growth of the country.  Statistics closely link a country’s GDP with the rate of women working in their population.

It was also mind-blowing to realise that developed countries are not even close to closing their gender gaps particularly in terms of politics and economics.  South Africa outranks the USA, UK and Australia which is saying a lot considering the access to education and healthcare that their women have, not to mention the many more years they’ve had as democracies, compared with Sub-Saharan Africa. Having debated methods of taxation, pension schemes, parental and childcare policies and quota systems I feel much more equipped in my role as a woman in a senior position in a large company.  I fortunately have never felt that I have been formally discriminated against in terms of my gender at work despite the fact that sexist stereotypes prevail in more subtle ways.  When I look around me at the smart women I’ve met here outpacing their male classmates in corporate finance, investment banking and engineering I hear glass ceilings shattering all over the place.

In any economy a monopoly is usually a bad thing.  It eliminates competition and competition is essential for growth and development and to allow a free market economy to prevail.  Men have a monopoly on work and wealth.  That’s something we shouldn’t allow.  Over the last century we have made great strides.  We have undergone what Claudia Golden calls, “the quiet revolution” which is the single biggest affect on labour supply in the history of the world; that of women entering the workforce.

HOWEVER I don’t generally identify myself with being a feminist.  That’s because I have a much more ideological design which I harbour.  Maybe it’s because I have an amazing husband or I was raised by a strong woman and taught that I could do anything I wanted to do (and I have – in quite a defiant and selfish way for most of my life) but I don’t like the idea of being treated differently based on gender.  That’s what we’re trying to prevent.  You want to climb out of the gender box but in order to do so you want to get back in and hold on to that box as your defining identity and your favourite weapon of choice?  But that’s the primary thing this course has taught me – economics can’t be ideological.  It must do stuff, not think stuff.  It must deal with what is, not what should be.

So a gender quota isn’t philosophically meritocratic, but it’s the only way to change the status quo sometimes.  An obligatory paternal care policy isn’t always necessary in individuals’ situations, but it’s a tool for shattering gender culture that suggests women should take on the majority share of household care and duties.  An anti-discrimination policy shouldn’t be something a company has to discuss, it should just be part of our automatic ethical makeup, but the fact is that people unconsciously discriminate all the time and the only way to rip away their blind prejudices is to make them see those prejudices through company and government endorsement and demonstrative penalising of offenders.

More power to the ladies and the men that value them.