Lois: Would Women have caused the Credit Crunch?

Saturday, 1st August 2009 at 8:00 UTC Leave a comment

Today sees the return of a former guest blogger to discuss an article I spotted but didn’t manage to get round to commenting on. Thankfully, someone else did it wonderfully for me; many thanks Lois! I have a couple of submissions for the next couple of weeks, but if the summer provides any thoughts on Gender, do send them over.

I found this article by the BBC’s Robert Peston interesting in the way it touches on some of the differences between men and women. Noting that nearly all those who are, at least in the eyes of the media, to blame for the credit crunch were men, he asks whether it’s just the absence of women from top jobs that has enabled them to escape blame, or whether there is a way in which perhaps women are more cautious

The difference he picks up is one of motivation:

"I know very few women who measure their success in life by the size of their respective bank balances, whereas I know an astonishing number of men for whom the only thing that matters is "the score"."

Although I don’t think you can attribute this purely to the difference in sex, I think there is a real difference, at least in the way men and women are portrayed in media and literature, and perhaps less noticeably in real life. Men are still viewed- by themselves as much as anyone, although perhaps subconsciously- as providers, going out and winning the bread. Women are often the ones who work part time, or flexibly, adding to the household income but also combining this, often, with housework, childcare, or just the general organisation of the household.

I’m not sure that I agree that all of this is down to sex, whether genetic or cultural expectations. It’s too close to the stereotypical notions of ‘men’s work’ and ‘women’s work.’ But I do think there is some truth in it. Cultural or not, it’s generally the mother, not the father, who takes time off work to look after the kids when they are young or ill, it’s generally the mother who society blames if things go wrong, before they blame the father.

Because women’s motivations are different, and because, it is alleged, they think more about the consequences of decisions on people and are reluctant to take risks if people are going to get hurt, it’s suggested that more influential women could change the culture at the top of banking. As Peston puts it, "men are more prone than women to simply run like a train at the goal, and never mind who’s flattened along the way." Rather than some of the male traders who had detached the ‘products’ they were trading from any connection with reality, and seemed to have forgotten that somewhere this would impact on people, it’s suggested that women, looking at this in a different light,would have brought these traders down to earth. Whether or not that could have happened, or could happen in the future, I don’t know.

I also found the point raised by some people commenting on the post interesting, when they pointed out that women were equally or even more to blame than men for the soaring levels of personal and credit card debt. Perhaps this fits in with the stereotypical idea of women as addicted to shopping and shoes. But in my experience men may buy different things (computers, TV’s, gadgets, football season tickets) but I don’t think their spending is that much less than women’s. It’s interesting too that much debt is linked with home life- furniture, for example- which is traditionally seen as a women’s area.

I’d suggest that the difference between men and women as discussed here and in Peston’s article, is about priorities. The priority of the men who ’caused’ the credit crunch was to make money for themselves. Women, it is supposed, are less focused on this and more on ensuring that the people around them are happy. While I hate stereotypes like this- and I’m sure there are plenty of men out there who care more for their family and friends’ well-being than for wealth, just as there are women who care more about wealth than well-being- I have to admit that there is some truth to it.

And I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Maybe it’s just because I’m a woman, maybe it’s got something to do with my faith, but I think public and business life would be none the worse if those in high positions put the good of their employees/ customers/ family before their own bonuses and wage increases rather more than seems to be the case at present. And if that means getting more women into high positions, I’m certainly not going to complain.

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Entry filed under: Culture, Economics, Gender, Guest, Media, News.

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