Biology at Work: Rethinking Sexual Equality

Biology at Work: Rethinking Sexual Equality

Biology at Work: Rethinking Sexual Equality

Biology at Work: Rethinking Sexual Equality

Synopsis

Does biology help explain why women, on average, earn less money than men? Is there any evolutionary basis for the scarcity of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies? According to Kingsley Browne, the answer may be yes. Biology at Work brings an evolutionary perspective to bear on issues of women in the workplace: the "glass ceiling," the "gender gap" in pay, sexual harassment, and occupational segregation. While acknowledging the role of discrimination and sexist socialization, Browne suggests that until we factor real biological differences between men and women into the equation, the explanation remains incomplete. Browne looks at behavioral differences between men and women as products of different evolutionary pressures facing them throughout human history. Womens biological investment in their offspring has led them to be on average more nurturing and risk averse, and to value relationships over competition. Men have been biologically rewarded, over human history, for displays of strength and skill, risk taking, and status acquisition. These behavioral differences have numerous workplace consequences. Not surprisingly, sex differences in the drive for status lead to sex differences in the achievement of status. Browne argues that decision makers should recognize that policies based on the assumption of a single androgynous human nature are unlikely to be successful. Simply removing barriers to inequality will not achieve equality, as women and men typically value different things in the workplace and will make different workplace choices based on their different preferences. Rather than simply putting forward the "nature" side of the debate, Browne suggests that dichotomies such as nature/nurture have impeded our understanding of the origins of human behavior. Through evolutionary biology we can understand not only how natural selection has created predispositions toward certain types of behavior but also how the social environment interacts with these predispositions to produce observed behavioral patterns.

Excerpt

The formal division of labor is breaking down in Western societies, with women
increasingly penetrating many formerly all-male preserves. Nonetheless striking
disparities remain. Women are sparsely represented at the highest level of corporate
hierarchies; many jobs continue to be largely sex segregated; and female employees
earn, on average, less than men. The variegated pattern of female progress suggests
causes more complex than such commonly blamed systemic factors as patriarchy
and sexism. Recognition of biological contributors to contemporary workplace pat
terns does not establish that the patterns are either desirable or immutable, but an
understanding of their origins may inform our judgments about whether interven
tion is appropriate and, if so, what form that intervention might take.

In the 1985 movie based upon H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, the hero, Allen Quatermain, encounters an African tribe that has adopted the unusual cultural practice of living upside down. They court upside down; they fight upside down; they even do laundry upside down. “Unhappy with the world the way it is,” we are told, “they live upside down hoping to change it.” Despite their unusual mode of life, they seem an eminently happy and welladjusted lot.

Might there be—perhaps in still-remote parts of Africa or New Guinea— a group of real humans that has chosen to live in such a way? Despite the dizzying array of cultural practices chronicled by ethnographers, ranging from the charming to the bizarre, we can be quite certain that the answer is no. Our confidence does not depend upon the fact that so much of the planet has . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.