Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Penetrating the patriarchal world of finance


So hello to new Bundesbank research, that has found women bankers to be greater risk-takers than men (see Financial Times). The study measured risk-taking in major German banks alongside the gender makeup of the banks' executive boards. Banks with more female executives were found to take more risks.

This finding challenges all those lazy gender stereotypes that consign women to a life of being measured, sensitive, more emotional, less brave. According to these notions, we're supposed to live up to that spine-chilling 19th century female adjective: meek. The ridiculous assumption that female bankers would put a damper on the fast-paced world of finance has been annihilated by this research. The myth of quiet, uncompetitive, unambitious, unexciting, utterly un-banking women in finance has been revealed - no, really? - to be just a myth.

That's not to say that the findings are in any way conclusive, or even that the research takes all factors into account (it doesn't). It's just pleasant to imagine the collective jaws of the financial sector's male hegemony dropping. Women don't conform to convenient business stereotypes? But WE KNOW their testosterone deficiency renders them unable to operate in high-octane banking. Well, you thought you knew.

That was my first reaction, anyway. Then the penny drops. This research will have dire political ramifications for women across the globe trying to penetrate banking's upper-echelons. In the deceptive parlance of officialdom, the research is said to “suggest that a public policy debate must take this impact into consideration”. In practice? Women are risky, so get them the hell away from our banks.

If the corporate world and "public policy debate" do take this research "into consideration", it will be a major setback for gender equality. It will amount to a transparent excuse to abandon any planned attempts to get more women into boardrooms. Women are too dangerous to merit the use of quotas. It would be frankly irresponsible to reform the patriarchal world of banking in favour of these risk-taking harlots of hysterical spontaneity. Why is that when men were seen as the risk-takers no one thought to prevent them entering banking? Because they have always been there. Women, on the other hand, are the intruders.

We're right back to prejudice against women, built on lazy and unproven assumptions. Before, women were rubbish because they couldn't take the necessary risks. Now they're rubbish because they apparently do.

Why can't we win? Why are we being held to higher standards, greater ideals? It's much easier to defend a castle than to win a seige. That's what we're witnessing here: the establishment can open the drawbridge to who it chooses. Women are forcing a foot in the door, but as reaction to this research shows, the battle is far from won.

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