Sunday, July 13, 2008

Gender bias

Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination for president because of "gender bias" in the news media, according to a Johns Hopkins University analysis that found the New York Democrat has attracted marked press discrimination. ( Source)

An article in Slate, in November last year, had discussed this possibility and had cited a study done in India, to predict that even if Hillary were to win the elections, she might not last more than one term.

The study that Slate referred to was one carried out by economists Esther Duflo and Petia Topalova.

In 1991, explains the article, almost none of India's village councils were headed by women; the 1991 constitutional amendment passed to redress this imbalance mandated the election of women as pradhans, or council heads, in a third of villages that were chosen entirely at random. This meant the villages reserved for female candidates were no different from other villages before the women-only elections.

Based on a survey they carried out, Duflo and Topalova found that the villages headed by women invested in more services that benefited the entire community than did those with gender-neutral elections, nearly all of which were won by men. Corruption was noticeably less. Issues such as supply of drinking water were tackled far better.

But, alas, the survey also brought the reality that ‘India's female pradhans were remarkably unappreciated for their efforts. Despite the objective upgrades in village amenities, both men and women living in villages headed by women expressed lower satisfaction with public services.’

Why this disconnect between the performance and recognition of female leaders? To find out the answer, Slate refers to another study. In an experiment on gender perceptions, psychologists Cameron Anderson and Francis Flynn gave one group of MBA students the original case study done by Harvard Business School on a venture capitalist, Heidi Roizen. Another group received a copy that was identical in every way, except that "Heidi" became "Howard."

How was Ms. Roizen perceived by students who read of her assertive style in the case? It depended whether she was presented as a man or as a woman.

‘Anderson and Flynn report that while both Howard and Heidi were rated as equally competent (they were the same person, after all), students described the female version of the character as overly aggressive, and were much less likely to want to work with or hire her. So the decisive, assertive traits that are often valued in leaders are received very differently when observed in women than when seen in men. Howard was a go-getter. Heidi was unlikably power-hungry.’

‘But there is some preliminary evidence (PDF), that the success of India's first wave of female pradhans is starting to change attitudes, perhaps bringing India one step closer to gender-neutral village politics.’

Hmm, I wonder how the findings on the Indian women pradhans would have been received had Esther Duflo been a man?


Anonymous said...

So how is the experience of women pradhans in Indian villages relevant to Hillary? Are they saying the US's attitude towards women is the same as in Indian villages ? ;)

Raj said...

Lekhni,yes. Some attitudes seem to be universal. Women prime ministers such as Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, were perceived to be more aggressive ( possibly, they had to be to cope in a political landscape dominated by men). Women who made it the top in the corporate world were always seen to be more pushy, although male leaders would have been equally or more pushy to reach their level.

Anonymous said...

Have you watched this?

It is quite telling.