On our way to Dartmouth, the gender mix of the Williams trustees came up. Five of the 25 current trustees are women. (By the way, kudos to Williams for making public the terms of trustees. EphBlog gets results! But it would be even better if they listed which trustees were elected directly by the alumni. My recollection is that these are: Alvarez, Bowen, Christian, Lawrence, and Rogers. That only one of these is a white male is not, one presumes, a coincidence. Related posts here.)

Anyway, “current eph” wrote:

What percentage of ephs who could potentially be trustees are women? Trustees are–for the most part–above a certain age and have achieved a certain level of financial and social success. While women started attending Williams in the 70s, it took a number of years before Williams got even close to 50-50. Just looking at the total number of woman at “trustee age” compared to men at “trustee age,” it should be clear that there would be more male trustees. Furthermore, because of social pressures on women to give up their careers or partially give up their careers to become mothers, a significant percentage of “trustee aged” women will not be as far along on their careers as similarly aged men. Finally, sexism in the elite workplace is still in strong force, and for better or worse, this is the primary workplace from which trustees are drawn.

The first part of this comment is correct. Age matters. In a gender neutral world, there would be more male trustees than female trustees because Williams did not go co-ed until the late 60’s.

But I have real doubts about that “social pressures” stuff, perhaps because I know more Eph women with children than current eph does. The vast majority of Eph women do not choose children over career because of “social pressures.” They choose them because they love their children more than they love their careers. Call them crazy!

Now, if you’re a Marxists believer in false consciousness, then perhaps it is “social pressures” that make Eph women make those choices. Perhaps it is “social pressures” that made me put in blue jeans and blog today. But, as a first approximation, the best way to understand the choices people make is to ask them about those choices. Perhaps this attitude makes me more a sociologist than an economist, but I will leave that to Rory.

current eph is free to argue that these women are making bad choices, that, for example, my wife is an idiot to work part-time so that she can be class mom to our daughters, that it is nasty “society” which forces her to not work 60 hours a week like many of her (male) peers in dermatology, that she, and her female classmates from the glorious class of 1989 are only making the choices that they make because of social pressures. But Current Eph would be wise not to make this argument in their presence lest they mock him mercilessly.

Also, “sexism in the elite workplace” is 95% fantasy. I have been in elite workplaces for a decade and seen virtually none. First-hand counter-examples are welcome! More rant below.

The problem with the whole sexism-causes-bad-thing-X is that people, perhaps including current eph, don’t think clearly about the counterfactual: What would the world look like if there were zero sexism? I think that even in a world of zero sexism, you would see highly male-biased pattern of success in elite workplaces.

Consider the analogy to anti-Semitism. There is, obviously, anti-Semitism in this imperfect world, just as there is sexism, even in elite workplaces. But what is the magnitude of its effect? How different would elite workplaces look if there were no anti-Semitism? Not much, and less each year. The same applies to sexism. There are a few sexists running elite workplaces, or so I assume since I have never seen one. A few sexist things go on, but few that I have ever noticed. But, in terms of the magnitude of the effects on who gets hired, who gets promoted and who gets rich, sexism, like anti-Semitism or anti-Episcopalianism, plays almost no role.

The most important issue is family. If you want to succeed in almost any “elite” workplaces, meaning the sorts of places that have nutured the careers of Williams trustees like Greg Avis, Toby Cosgrove, Michael Eisenson, William Oberndorf and Michael Keating, you need to work at least full time, if not much extra time, from your 20’s through your 40’s. Elite law firms, medical practices and financial firms may have spots for people, male or female, who want to work part-time, who want to spend time with their kids, who want to go on class trips and PTA meetings, those spots do not lead to the brass ring. Leadership roles, and the compensation that comes with them, go to workers who do not take time off, who devote all their energies to success in their chosen field.

And, for whatever reason, many more men than women choose that path. Why that is so is a topic for another day. But the idea that nastiest sexist who run elite workplaces actively discriminate against women is 95% false. (I am willing to grant that it is 5% true, although I doubt even that. But even if you fix that 5%, the skew in earnings at the high end is mostly unchanged.)

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