Not there yet

Possibly my attention has been primed by Ada Lovelace Day, and another recent event, but I’ve been noticing a lot in the press recently about misogynism and other forms of discrimination. The impression I get is that the mainstream is becoming increasingly laddish, or failing to become less so.

Women are speaking up about death threats and other abuse they are subjected to when they express opinions online. Men simply aren’t subjected to personal and sexual abuse in the same way. Such abuse just isn’t acceptable, whoever it’s directed at.

It’s not just when we express our opinions, either. Discrimination in the workplace is still rife, on both gender and ethnic grounds. And a report published today shows that female customers suffer discrimination, too. Noreena Hertz writes in the FT that:

Male entrepreneurs in Europe are 5 per cent more likely to successfully get a loan for their business from banks than women. A 2009 study of 14,108 firms across 34 countries, showed that those women that do gain access to loans are often subjected to higher interest rates – an average 0.5 per cent more on a business loan than men – or must accept more burdensome guarantees and collateral requirements.

This is not just a case of the market cleverly weeding out the good from the bad. Women are not given worse terms because their businesses are more risky, smaller or in less attractive industries than men. The many studies I looked at explicitly compared like for like. It is not that women are worse at business than men and so present worse credit risks – the average venture-backed technology company run by a woman is started with a third less capital yet has annual revenues that are 12 per cent higher than those run by men.

This is not good. It’s an inefficient way of doing business, besides being unfair and unjust.

There’s more subtle discrimination, too. Women are definitely treated as “other”, in my experience: hypothetical CEOs are nearly always called Jim or Fred, never Sue or Mary. What’s wrong with Chris or Pat, and simply not being specific about what sex they are? And why does the Actuarial Profession continue to use “the actuary… he” in its documents? Saying that “he” refers to women as well as men doesn’t change the effect it has on people. Personally, when I read or hear the word “he” I don’t immediately feel that it applies to me.

We’re by no means there yet.

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1 Comment

  1. In a couple of user manuals I literally tossed a coin to decide, and I think in both cases the user came out female. Both long before I even met you, which is – let’s face it – two or three years ago. In one of them I used a 1966 two shilling piece, aka florin, leading to my best ever backronym. FLORIN = Fast Location Of Random Integral Numbers.

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