How the ‘Authority Gap’ Between Men and Women Hurts Us All

Youf you’re a man reading this, may I first of all say thank you. Your interest in an essay solely about women is not common. This is your opportunity to be successful. Perhaps it’s not about the benefits you as a man from treating women with respect and taking them more seriously. This is because there are a lot of facts that show it is a positive-sum game where everyone wins.

It may seem odd, but it is true. Isn’t gender equality a seesaw in which, if one side rises, the other must, by definition, fall? I don’t deny that there may be individual instances in which, if you are in direct competition with a woman for a job or a promotion and the bias against her is dissolved, you may find that she beats you on merit. You will be happier, healthier, and more fulfilled in almost every aspect of your everyday life. You’ll even sleep more soundly and, as a clincher, have a better sex life.

Let’s start from the individual and work outwards to the workplace, the wider economy, the country as a whole and the planet, to see what we can all gain from narrowing the authority gap: the gap that measures how much we still take women less seriously than men.

These days, women are more likely to select men who they feel will make good fathers. They also share the second shift as much as traditional husbands. Phillip Hodson (psychotherapist) puts it like this: The Emotional Male: A Investigation, “Men only need to change a little to gain great improvements in their relationships but they falsely see this change as considerable and resist it.”

Research has shown that heterosexual families benefit from having a partner who is more equal. A woman who is satisfied in the relationship is happier, communicates better with her partner, feels valued and part of an authentic team. She is also less angry and tired from taking on a large amount of unpaid work. The result is that she feels happier and more healthy. Their children are happier and healthier, with fewer behavioral difficulties. They also do well at school. But, best of all for these purposes, the men themselves are also happier and healthier: they are twice as likely to be satisfied with their life, they smoke less, drink less, take fewer drugs, suffer less mental ill health, are less likely to get divorced, have a better relationship with their children—and they get significantly more frequent and better sex. What’s not to like?

Fathers being more involved with bringing up their children don’t just free up women to advance at work, thus helping narrow the authority gap. You also change attitudes for the next generation. Fathers who give their daughters a fair amount are more likely for them to achieve their career goals, sometimes in less stereotyped occupations. They also have a higher self-esteem and more confidence. Sons who see their fathers share the household duties equally have a more egalitarian perspective of women’s and men’s roles at home and work. As teenagers, they are twice as likely to become violent than boys who hold rigid views on masculinity and gender.

The gender equality of men seems to work well. They can enjoy all the comfort and love that comes with happy relationships and loving families. It allows them to get out of the patriarchal rigidities that can make life difficult for both men and women.

The Norwegian sociologist Øystein Gullvåg Holter has written a wonderful academic paper called ‘What’s in It for Men?’, in which he enumerates all the benefits that men win in more gender-equal European countries and more gender-equal U.S. states. Their chances of getting divorced are lower. The chances that they will die violently are nearly half. There is a smaller gap in suicide rates between men and women. Men are also less likely to be violent against their partners and children, which in turn reduces the children’s risk of being violent in later life. They are also happier. “It is a common misunderstanding that increased gender equality provides benefits and privileges for women at the expense of men’s benefits and privileges,” he says. He found that males in U.S. and other countries where gender is more equal are almost twice as likely be happy and half as likely be depressed. This applies regardless of income and class.

Men are more happy at home with more equal gender roles, but what about at work? If you show equal respect to your female coworkers and give them the same level of competence, you will make them more likely to work hard for you, and they will be happier. If you have a female boss you’ll likely find that she is a more effective people manager. Gallup’s State of the American Manager report surveyed 27 million employees and found that those who work for a female manager are 26 per cent more likely than those who work for a man to strongly agree that, “There is someone at work who encourages my development,” and 29 per cent more likely to strongly agree that, “In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.”

This means that women working for female bosses are more loyal and engaged, which is good news to employers. Women and men are both more likely to be engaged when their female bosses are present. However, the largest gap between men working for men (35% engaged) and women working for them (35%). “Overall,” says the report, “female managers eclipse their male counterparts at setting basic expectations for their employees, building relationships with their subordinates, encouraging a positive team environment and providing employees with opportunities to develop within their careers.” And the female managers themselves are more engaged than their male counterparts, finds the survey, perhaps because they know they have to work harder to gain the same recognition.

Mike Rann is a former South Australia premier. I went to talk to him about the appalling misogyny that his friend and colleague Julia Gillard had endured when she was Australia’s first and so far only female prime minister. He continued to expand on this theme. “Women read their briefs, they don’t just read the summary of their Cabinet papers, they’ve actually done the homework, often much more diligently,” he told me. “And why? Partly because it’s the right thing to do, but because they’re constantly being judged more harshly, under different standards to the blokes, they have to make sure they go the extra mile. So I think men have a lot to learn from women and I don’t understand why they’re so scared.”

Women are often held to higher standards because of this authority gap. Employers often lose out on female talent who isn’t promoted. They also stand to benefit from narrowing the gender gap. Rann points out that women are often more successful than men. Rann points out that research has shown that women are often more successful than men in the areas of selling homes, negotiating with female attorneys, and treating patients by female doctors.

There is strong business argument for more women being promoted to authority positions. According to McKinsey & Company’s 2019 report on the subject, which looked at more than 1,000 large companies in 15 countries, the most gender-diverse companies were 25 per cent more likely to earn above-average profits than the ones with very few women. A higher likelihood of outperformance is the greater the number of women working in top positions within a company.

Consider how richer this country could be if there were more women running small businesses. This would result in more employment and better wages. This is what investors and the stock exchange understand. Many large institutional investors now put pressure on firms that employ very few senior female employees. This isn’t for box-ticking purposes, but to increase shareholder value. Employers that have more senior female leaders are likely to attract better employees. When considering a potential employer, 61 per cent of women look at the diversity of the employer’s leadership team and 67 per cent at whether it has positive role models similar to them.

This is partly why these companies perform well. They have access to more talent, which often means that women outperform men. But there is also strong evidence that more diverse teams (including race, nationality and class as well as gender) make better decisions, even if the members don’t always feel it at the time.

Although it may seem uncomfortable for an outsider to join a team, this is what makes us feel more confident. Homogeneous groups might feel more secure that they are making the right choices, but it is diverse groups that perform best. Katherine Phillips, an associate professor in business and organizational studies, conducted an experiment where people were placed into teams to solve a murder. Some of the participants knew one another, while others had outsiders. The ones with more people were less likely to identify the correct suspect, as they thought harder about the issue. Even though their chances of being wrong were higher, those with the lowest diversity were far more confident about making decisions. “Generally speaking, people would prefer to spend time with others who agree with them rather than disagree with them,” says Phillips. However, agreeing with one another does not always lead to the best results.

Venture capital is known for being a male-dominated field. However, VC companies that have more female partners are 10 percent more likely to achieve profitable exits. A third study shows that private tech firms run by women earn 35% more in return for their investment. However, 93% of venture capital funding still goes to companies owned by men. Just think about how rich we all could be if this potential was used more effectively.

Giving women more authority—taking their talents more seriously, promoting them more, lending them money, allowing them to lead—could hugely boost the world economy. Christine Lagarde (the President of European Central Bank) and Jonathan Ostry co-authored a paper that calculates that countries with the lowest gender inequalities could see a 35% increase in their GDP if they close the gap. This is based on the unique perspectives and skills that women can bring to the workplace. What’s more, this could actually increase men’s wages because having more talented women in the workforce would lead to higher productivity, from which everybody gains.

McKinsey claims that 12 trillion dollars, or 11.5%, could be added to global annual GDP if countries within a particular region match the pace of gender equality improvements of the top one. That’s equivalent to Germany, Japan, and Britain’s current GDP. According to economists, this scenario is not trivial.

Women could also have a greater influence on the world’s political decisions than men. With their conscientious and compassionate style, we have seen the success of leaders like Jacinda Ardern from New Zealand. But this isn’t just anecdotal. According to research, female politicians tend to have more constituents than their male counterparts.

Work harder than men, they are less corrupt, and their leadership style is more inclusive and cooperative. They are more concerned with issues that benefit the least fortunate. They are also more likely to win greater central government funding for their constituents and more legislative work.

Our chances of living peacefully are higher. Women who are more powerful in a country have less chance of going to war or having a civil war. The likelihood of internal conflict in countries that have 10 percent or more women in their labour force is almost thirty times greater than those with only 40 per cent. In the meantime, women are more likely to be involved in peace negotiations that will last.

In the Journal of Happiness Studies is an article called ‘(E)Quality of Life’, in which the authors conducted a cross-national analysis of the effect of gender equality on satisfaction with life. They write: “By any standard, improvements in the status of women appear to be associated with large improvements in the overall quality of life within a nation. The conclusion is fairly straightforward: across our different measures of the relative empowerment of women, the data suggest that society is happier as women achieve greater equality.” No wonder men as well as women prefer living in Sweden than in Saudi Arabia.

“It could be that any improvement in the wellbeing of women produces a corresponding reduction in satisfaction among men, as if quality of life is a zero-sum game in which improvement for some means a diminution for others,” they concede. But no: “For both men and women, gender equality would seem to lead to greater life satisfaction regardless of the measure used.” Given how worried we are these days about teenagers’ wellbeing, it is cheering also to discover that adolescent girls and boys are happier in gender-equal countries, even after controlling for national wealth and income equality.

Finally, let’s consider the implications for the future of the planet. Climate change worries and the effects on future generations are more common in women. It is also more common for them to think it will have an impact on their lives. Global warming could be reduced if more women are in decision-making positions, and people listen to them.

An experiment conducted with forest-users from Peru, Indonesia and Tanzania at the local level found that at least 50% of the decision-making group members were women. This led to more tree conservation and more equitable distribution of payments. It also makes a big difference at the national level. More women are represented in the national legislatures, which leads to more aggressive climate change policies and lower carbon dioxide emission.

It is all in our best interests to allow women equal authority as men, whether it be at work, home, or the national state, and on the planet. Women and men both benefit from the additional talent and perspectives of women who contribute to our common lives. If we reduce the gap in authority, then our lives will be more fulfilling, happier, and healthier. It might save the earth.

Adapted from Sieghart’s new book The Authority Gap: Why Women Are Still Taken Less Seriously Than Men And What We Can Do About It

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