Is it bad that men and women are evaluated differently?

In the past month or so I’ve looked at a bunch of articles about how men and women are evaluated differently.

Then Matt Guthmiller showed up to a talk that I was giving at MIT. He is an MIT sophomore and the youngest person ever to fly around the world. He did his trip in a piston-engine unpressurized Beechcraft Bonanza with rear seats replaced by a ferry tank. The longest leg was 16 hours (American Samoa to Hawaii). He was by himself. I asked him how successful he’d been at getting speaking engagements from business groups eager to have him inspire their workers about self-reliance and decision-making under pressure. It turned out that Amelia Rose Earhart, who did a round-the-world trip is in much higher demand as a speaker (video example). Let’s compare the two achievements.

Guthmiller was 19. Nobody younger had ever flown around the world. Earhart was 31 (but in great shape!) and journalists reported that she was the youngest woman ever to fly around the world, ignoring Richarda Morrow-Tait (who did the trip at age 25, leaving her husband and toddler daughter behind in 1948; Morrow-Tait returned home pregnant with her navigator’s child. In 1951, her husband was successful in divorcing her on the grounds of adultery, but Richarda got custody.).

Guthmiller flew solo in a plane that has to go through the weather. Earhart flew with Shane Jordan, a former Pilatus factory pilot and flight instructor, a man with 4500 hours of experience with the Pilatus PC-12, the $ 4.7 million turboprop that they flew (courtesy of Pilatus and Honeywell!). The PC-12 is a single-pilot aircraft, which means that from a legal point of view Jordan could have done the trip without anyone else on board the aircraft. From an FAA point of view, Amelia Rose Earhart was essentially a passenger. The PC-12 can fly at 30,000′, which is above much of the nasty weather that Guthmiller had to fly through at 10,000′.

In the case of “What do you have to do to impress people with a round-the-world trip?” it seems that women have to do much less than men. If the articles are right, women have to do more than men in other arenas, or at least do things differently to succeed.

But then I thought that perhaps this is actually a good thing. If there were truly one set of standards for everyone, what would be the point of all of the money and effort that companies put into “diversity”? If the tests were comprehensive and perfectly fair, all workers would converge to having the same behaviors and characteristics, sort of like what happens with Ivy League students. At that point there is no diversity in behavior or attitude.

Another way to say this is “If we rewarded women for acting just like men then why wouldn’t they all act just like men and thus eliminate any benefit to hiring women?”


Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

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