August 7 2013
Vicki E. Alger
There’s no shortage of government bureaucracies trying to justify their continued existence at taxpayer expense, but this one really takes the cake.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s official blog, Work in Progress, recently posted a piece by Latifa Lyles, acting director of the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau (yes, this is a real agency). In it she bemoaned the reaction to a Newsweek/The Daily Beast profile of the of New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, who admitted to crying over an article criticizing her leadership. Lyles insists:
When men exhibit leadership, what people mostly want to know are the results: Is he effective? Can he motivate people? Is the organization successful? But Abramson can’t win: she’s accused of being too tough on the job, a criticism that leads her to cry, which leads to the criticism that she’s too soft.
Why do we care? While women constitute 51.5 percent of those in management, professional, and related occupations, they only constitute 14.3 percent of executive officers, 16.6 percent of corporate board members, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.2 percent of CEOs. We can’t ignore the role of cultural schemas and gender norms in the disparity between men’s and women’s advances into the upper management ranks.
Really? Nowhere in the Bureau of Labor Statistics report Lyles cites is there any attempt to quantify the impact of cultural or gender-related norms—but hey, don’t let that omission get in the way of a great departmental PR campaign! Lyles continues:
As discriminatory practices and negative gender stereotyping continue to take their toll on women, the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau – the only government agency whose mission is to advocate for the economic advancement of women – is more important than ever before.
…we must fight every day against clumsy stereotypes and damaging double standards that hold women back.
Yes. Yes we should—with hard evidence, not wishful thinking. Gender equality bean counters like those at the Women’s Bureau should respect women’s life and career choices—including the choice not to be a CEO.
The Wall Street Journal had a great rejoinder, in which it called for either abolishing the Women’s Bureau, or—in the spirit of equality—establishing a Men’s Bureau. Then again, let’s not.
In its latest budget request, the Bureau of Labor want more than $9.2 million for 35 full-time employees (See p. 77 here). That works out to more than $263,000 per Women’s Bureau employee. To be sure, not all that taxpayer cash would go to salaries, but it’s worth noting that according to the Census Bureau, only around 11 percent of Americans earn $100,000 or more. Not a bad way to break the glass ceiling—if you don’t mind breaking taxpayers’ piggy banks first.
But here’s the real kicker: The Women’s Bureau is trying to justify its existence by coming to the defense of a successful woman, who, unless I’m mistaken, didn’t need or ask for any help from the Women’s Bureau, is ranked by Forbes as one of its most powerful people in the country, and is also considered the highest-paid journalist in the world.
Hard work, smart investing, and savvy entrepreneurship appear to be the keys to Abramson’s financial success—not some government bureaucracy.