May 28 2013

Sadly, the Obvious Is Controversial When Talking About Women and Work

National Review

Carrie L. Lukas

There’s something sad about the carefully crafted follow-up statement that Paul Tudor Jones, the hedge-fund mogul and philanthropist, made in the aftermath of a frank discussion at the University of Virginia about careers in macro trading. (Which Kathryn and Colette Moran wrote about here and here.)

The discussion was supposed to be off the record (to encourage the kind of honest dialogue that ultimately got Jones in hot water), but was recorded by the university. According to the Washington Post, after being asked to comment on the “elephant in the room” of why the panel of high-powered finance executives included no women, Jones said, “You will never see as many great women investors or traders as men — period, end of story . . . As soon as that baby’s lips touched that girl’s bosom, forget it.” He continued, saying “every single investment idea . . . every desire to understand what is going to make this go up or go down is going to be overwhelmed by the most beautiful experience . . . which a man will never share, about a mode of connection between that mother and that baby . . . And I’ve just seen it happen over and over.”

Jones’s description of the mother-child bond is awkwardly specific. Yet his conclusion is startling only in that something so blindingly obvious had to be said, and is considered controversial.

In his follow-up statement, he offered the obligatory defense that he has daughters, is encouraging them to pursue careers in finance, and believes that all women and men can be anything they want to be. All true, I’m sure, and sadly a necessary, if robotic, defense from anyone who tiptoes into this dangerous subject.    

But one would hope that, at some point, the conversation about women in the workplace would become less treacherous. After all, there is effectively universal agreement that women can succeed in just about any career. Women are outpacing men in terms of education, and make up a majority of professionals and managers.

Yet we keep coming back to the statistical differences in women’s representation in the upper echelons of elite professions. If we truly want to find an explanation, then discussing parenting roles and divergent preferences among women and men about how to spend their time becomes unavoidable.  Most married mothers prefer not to work full-time when their children are young if they don’t have to (here’s arecent Pew survey to back up this obvious statement). If few moms with the choice want to work full-time, then we can reasonably conclude that even fewer want to take on the incredibly intense, time-consuming responsibilities of being a top executive or a macro trader.

It is bizarre that acknowledging such a fact can get you in trouble.

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