Sex at work
Many feminists (and others) argue that discrimination and sexist conditioning are responsible for the scarcity of top female executives and for women’s lower average pay. In the past, these may have been adequate explanations. But the persistence of large disparities between the sexes at a time when discrimination is socially unacceptable and legally actionable, and when many employers go to great lengths to attract and promote women, makes such explanations suspect.
One alternative explanation for the persistence of these differences is biological: women are inherently less likely than men to possess the traits which contribute to workplace success. This explanation runs counter to the teachings of standard social science, according to which the human mind is programmed by society to create sex differences in temperament and behaviour that go beyond “real” differences in reproductive function and physical strength. Because the two sexes are largely interchangeable, any differences in outcomes must be caused either by different treatment or different programming.
The findings of modern biology and psychology render these assumptions untenable. Many traits which were once thought to be the products of upbringing are now known to have a genetic component. Indeed, sex hormones-acting first on the foetal brain-are important contributors to average sex differences in temperament, and to some cognitive abilities. These psychological differences have significant consequences in the workplace.
Evolution has left a different imprint on the temperament of the two sexes. Men, unburdened by pregnancy and lactation, have competed among themselves for access to females, because they can increase their reproductive success by increasing their number of sexual partners in a way that women cannot. Historically, the currency of male reproductive success is status and resources-the criteria by which women choose mates. High-status males were able to obtain more mates, thereby leaving behind more of their genes than did their low-status counterparts. For much of history male status came from skill at hunting and warfare, and from the capacity to dominate and lead others by force of arms, personality or intellect. It is no surprise, therefore, that men are more disposed to engage in the risky, competitive and aggressive behaviour often necessary to reach the top of hierarchies.
Women, on the other hand, have not traditionally enhanced their reproductive success through matings with multiple partners or by achieving extra-domestic status. Rather, they were more likely to enhance their reproductive success by providing…