Mad Men poll from the Economist : Women and MBAs

Mad Men meets Stepford Wives in outdated Economist poll

Named Editor of the Year in 2012, Mr John Micklethwait is Editor-in Chief of the Economist. Given his background, as a leading figure in global intellectual and business media, one would assume that he is a pretty smart and savvy gentleman.

The Economist is normally associated with balanced,  neutral, informative reporting on the issues of women in the workplace and business. I am a regular reader. So,  I was astonished  this weekend by a departure from their usual high level,  objective content,  into the tabloid style enforcement of gender stereotypes.

Loss of balance
Why on earth would his publication send out such a thoughtless, sexist poll asking if women with young children should consider waiting before starting an MBA?  Here is the text which reads like something from Mad Men meets The Stepford Wives:

Juggling the twin demands of an MBA programme and young children is bound to be tough. But it is not impossible. According to one student, interviewed here, it means devoting days to classes, afternoons to her daughters, and evenings and Sundays to school work. Still, multi-tasking can be a mistake. Children demand your full attention and trying to concentrate on it and your assignment at the same time inevitably means you do both poorly. One answer is to hire a babysitter. But this can be costly….”

Out of date
Notwithstanding it came out the morning after the major office party night of the year, and a few brain cells might have been lost. Perhaps  Mr. Micklethwait was having a day off. Or maybe the The Economist is short of  readers and needs something a little contentious. Perhaps the 21st century notion of dual career families has completely passed them by. The expectations of women, especially Gen Yers in the area of  the roles their partners play in household and childcare responsibilities, are very different from their mothers’  generations.  Not only that there are actually  significant numbers of  men who want to be actively involved in their children’s upbringing.  My own questions would be:

  • Why don’t they pose the same questions to men?
  • Where are the fathers in the childcare process? Why are they coming home when the children are asleep?

Only one-third of MBA students are women. Surely the poll  and business schools should be trying to establish  how to attract high calibre women without imposing the ” Mummy penalty”, rather than going into the family planning advisory business which serves to re-enforce out dated thinking. As one MBA candidate in a career workshop in Paris told me last week, as a married man with children  he felt he was perceived as offering employers stability, echoing Curt Rice’s fatherhood bonus theory.

This is perpetuating any number of outmoded stereotypes:

  • That childcare is the exclusive role and responsibility of the mother.
  • MBAs are for men
  • Women who are both mothers and professionals will “inevitably” do both roles poorly.
  • Women who focus on the achievement of their own goals will feel guilty.

Here is the story of one woman, Lynn Barbour  who broke the curve.  I suggest that J.L.H.D of The Economist, Atlanta  interview her as well,   to show how it can all be achieved successfully. Lynn says “While formal strategies of employers and business schools need to be strengthened to increase the percentage of women in MBAs, I believe most of the change required starts with individuals” There must be a multitude of other women who have done the same and would not be OK with their partner coming home when the kids are in bed!

There are many reasons why women don’t make it to the top,  but I suspect fitting in a nappy/diaper change around an MBA assignment will not be one of them. Gender stereotypes reenforced by an influential, global press publication are far more likely to strengthen any barriers, than make dents in them.

Perhaps what we need is a female editor for the Economist.

What do you think?

5 thoughts on “Mad Men poll from the Economist : Women and MBAs

  1. Tanveer Naseer

    Hi Dorothy,

    I think you summed it up best when you asked “Why don’t they pose the same questions to men?”.

    As a father, I can tell you that such thinking should also be upsetting for men because it demeans the value of our contribution to our children’s lives. After all, aren’t children better off when they have their dads present and involved in their lives and development? Or is The Economist claiming the father’s involvement is cursory and of marginal benefit? As much as it makes out the rearing of children as being the sole responsibility of women, it also serves to diminish and devalue the importance and necessity of fathers playing an active role in their children lives.

    If there’s one term I’d love to see turn extinct in my lifetime it’s “deadbeat dads”. The only way that will happen is if we all collectively acknowlege the importance of fathers and seeing men “man up” to those responsibilities. Asking people’s opinions in such polls sadly only serves to reinforce past gender archtypes and not what more dads like myself want to see represented in today’s media.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Tanveer- excellent input and although I was coming at the question from the angle of women MBA candidates, you are right, what we should really be asking is how can we empower our brightest and best which includes allowing them to be visionary leaders in their own homes. Jesse Lynn Stoner covers this overlap eloquently in her post for 3Plus regarding family vision

      This means that both men and women need to be present in both spheres.

      Had this poll come from a headline grabbing tabloid I possibly would have ignored it. But a publication such as The Economist carries much weight and it’s disappointing to see it perpetuate and reenforce outdated, limiting stereotypes, which does a disservice not just to men and women, but businesses and economies as well.

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