GE just announced it’s planning to hire 20,000 women in science and math roles by 2020. By that time, the company also plans to ensure the gender ratio of its technical entry-level programs is 50:50 (wait — what about all the other genders?).
At first blush, this may sound great. A leading company is making a concerted effort to narrow the gender gap in well-paying math and science jobs, and they even published a white paper about it all to show they’re serious. Hooray! But a closer look at GE’s announcement reveals why it’s problematic.
1.Gender Quotas Are Sexist
As a woman, I’m deeply offended by the notion that a company needs to go out of its way to hire women based specifically on their sex. It’s like joining a co-ed softball team with a rule that stipulates that a certain number of girls must be on the field at all times so every team is equally “disadvantaged.” Except it’s not a softball team that you joined just to drink cheap beer afterwards with your friends — it’s your job.
I imagine the decision happened in a smoke-filled board room in which a bunch of men said between sips of whiskey: “I know what will make a splash: let’s hire more girls!”
“By jove, you’re right. Sandra, write that down!”
*Sandra the receptionist scribbles in her notebook furiously.*
In all seriousness, basing a hiring decision on that person’s sex is literally sexism. Thus isn’t implementing a quota that stipulates a company must hire a certain number of women and NOT HIRE men in order to meet that goal the textbook definition of sexism? I, for one, want my employer to hire me because he (or she) thinks I’m the best person at the job at hand, not because I have lady parts and can fulfill some dumb, arbitrary quota the higher ups came up with for a lame PR stunt.
2. Will This Thicken The ‘Glass Ceiling’?
In the same vein, does this quota mean it’ll be harder for these newly hired women to move upwards within the company once they’re hired? If GE is actively recruiting women to fulfill a quota, not because they’re the most qualified, would the company be more likely to later on promote male co-workers who had to work harder and show better credentials to obtain an entry-level position? Unfortunately, this isn’t fleshed out in GE’s plan.
3. Sexism Is Baked Into The Cake
Some feminists like to tell us there’s no difference between men and women, and to say otherwise is sexist. If that’s true, then why does GE need to set quotas to balance the equation? Could it be that — GASP — men and women are different after all? If there’s really no difference between men and women, then why does GE feel the need to aggressively recruit women to balance the gender equation? Is it possible that women and men as broad groups tend to display divergent life priorities and professional interests?
While recognizing the inherent differences between the sexes, as GE does, is a good thing, there’s nothing in its white paper that highlights the positives of hiring more women. The focus of the study doesn’t set out to prove women will bring value to the company and thus are important and valuable. Instead its focal point is on helping misinformed women understand that factories aren’t dirty anymore.
This is an actual quote from the paper, emphasis added.
The factory floors of the digital-industrial age are very different from the traditional stereotypical views of ‘dirty, rough and noisy.’ The factories of the future, or so-called ‘Brilliant Factories,’ are clean, high-tech environments, which resemble a top-notch science lab rather than a nineteenth century factory floor. The tasks performed on the Brilliant factory floor are less arduous, more creative, and digitally augmented. It is a working environment well suited to highly skilled individuals, both women and men. As this new reality becomes more widely recognized, we believe it will help boost women’s interest in manufacturing.
See, ladies? You won’t soil your dresses by working in a GE factory because they keep their floors cleaner nowadays! Excuse me while I simultaneously roll my eyes and try very hard not to throw up.
GE isn’t the only company to pretend to care about women in a gross, showboaty fashion. Audi recently rolled out a Super Bowl ad in which the luxury car company pretends like it’s going to close the so-called wage gap. Audi subsequently admitted that their female employees average smaller paychecks than their male colleagues due to factors such as more frequently working part time.
Corporations need to stop perpetuating the idea that women are helpless and need aggressive hiring quotas to find a job because their professional qualifications aren’t good enough. It’s just embarrassing for everyone involved.