Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Women in blogging and business

I was catching up on my blog reading the other night when I started noticing a trend in my feed reader.  I feel like of the personal finance blogs I follow the ones written by men tend to write from a position of authority featuring rules, generalizations, data and controversy as driving features in their content.  The blogs written by women, on the other hand, tend to focus much more tightly around personal experiences, budgeting, and family and do not write with authority on a subject.

I'm thinking that if this trend is true (and of course it may not be and there will be exceptions even if it is), that it might be indicative of a reason that the number of women in many professions tends to taper with seniority.  A manager is a fundamentally authoritative position.  To be someone's boss you must be able to speak with authority and a manager who does not dictate rules and structure will likely be less effective in organizing their subordinates. A focus on family also means you may not be putting the same hours in.  So one might say that since women speak with less authority they may be less likely to become managers - typically you don't get promoted to a new position unless you already demonstrate the characteristics and skills necessary for it.

Similarly, women might be enrolled in lower numbers at business schools since they may be less likely to be selected as managers and project or see themselves with an air of authority.  Despite business schools' best efforts to recruit female candidates, even top schools only have women as 30-40% of their MBA students.  The MBA is a management degree and if women aren't becoming managers then the degree doesn't hold as much value for them.

This is a huge amount of conjecture and my data is so not representative or scientific in any way. I certainly do not believe that any of this is in any way wholesale truth, but I do think there may be a kernel in there that is worth discussing.  What do you think?  Are women being held back by their preference not to or inability to project authority?  Can we draw conclusions about societal trends from the blogging world?  Feel free to point out exceptions or rule breakers in the comments!

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  1. I always thought that there were fewer females in management because they usually time off to have babies. Not to sound discriminatory or anything (I love my mom and sister), but the average MBA student's age is around 24-29. Average age for first time mother's is 24. An MBA program is demanding, so I don't think the lower % of female students is a coincidence. Priorities for the average female in that particular age group are probably just a bit different.

    In addition, i'm sure it's hard to get that promotion into management if you're taking an entire year off to take care of a newborn. Multiple years off if you want to have several children. Pretty sure my comment isn't politically correct, but I'm sure this is an underlying theme in the corporate world.

    Hope I don't get flamed for this.

  2. The average age of motherhood in 2006, according to Pew Research, is 27. [see here]. I wouldn't say that an MBA program is any more demanding than a law degree or a medical degree. And you see women at parity (50%) in both of those degrees. MBAs typically attract fewer women because it usually requires a few years of work experience, so that when you are 26 and 27 and looking into bschool, the timing may conflict with the prime years when women tend to start think seriously about having babies. For law school and medical school you can go right after college. That's why business schools are making an effort to attract a more diverse pool of applicants, including women.

    Paul's comment is very interesting, and a little bit of a throwback, I'd argue. The reason why there are fewer females in management is because of MANY factors, social, economic, and historical.

    It does a company - a society - no good if it doesn't allow ALL the human capital it has to innovate and succeed. And 50% of the world's human capital comes from, you guessed it, women!

    Plus, the thing about women and babies - look, humans have babies. Someone has to bear those babies. That job falls to women. Many times I hear arguments that try to disenfranchise women but are couched in "oh no, it's just a personal choice for mothers!" and that is a little disheartening.

    On the blog, I do see that discrepancy between what men tend to blog about and what women blog about. I personally focus more on the "personal" side of personal finance because writing about the top 10 ways to save, while useful and fun-once-in-a-while, isn't what I'd enjoy writing OR reading all the time. I imagine many other female bloggers feel the same way. Not a matter of competence, but more of interest.

    Anyhow... I've completely hijacked your comment! Maybe I need to continue this over on my own blog. :)

  3. Those are some interesting observations. I haven't thought of it in that regard before, but just quickly thinking about it I can see where you're going with that.

    While we want to be careful, I think it's fair to say that men and women do communicate a bit differently, right? Men and women might have different interests too, right? So, I suppose it makes sense that there would be differences in tone and vantage point of bloggers. Now you got me thinking, as a male blogger am I authoritative? :)

    One more thing - really interesting point made above by Well Heeled noting that 50% of the world's human capital comes from Women. Simple yet powerful data point when you think about it.

  4. Great points. I'm glad you guys ran with it instead of flaming me! I really meant it as a point of discussion.

    I think Paul is right that having children does pull women out of the workforce, but Well Heeled is also right that women are half of our human capital and having a child should not exclude you from contributing. So I think as a society we have to find ways to support and incorporate having families while in the workforce. Some European countries have very different models than ours but I don't think we're ready to implement changes that drastic yet - thinking long term is not a strength of our country.

    Well Heeled's point is well taken - there are plenty of factors affecting the number of women in management.

  5. I write from a personal standpoint because I feel less pretentious. I am not saying that people who do write with more authority are, it's that I feel unqualified to be considered an expert.

    I feel like if I write what I know about or my experiences it comes out more organic. I like how Well-Heeled put it about it being a matter of interest.

  6. I can't do personal because my life is boring so discussing concepts, ideas, or news has become my staple. Simple enough.

  7. Niki and JT - As a new blogger it's really interesting to hear why other bloggers write in the way that they do. Two really different takes on the practicality of what to write about. Thanks for sharing!

  8. I think it can be attributed more to interest and communication styles. Women are more inclusive and more likely to share while men (in general) want to appear as experts.

    There are a couple of men who are very successful PF bloggers because they write with a personal touch (J.D. Roth and J. Money).

  9. Those are really good observations. I think my blog is a little mix of both (and that's why initially people thought I was a male PF blogger!).

    I know I thought the same of Balance Junkie (thought she was male).

    I also agree it could be related to interest and communication styles. Because I blog about both things, it's interesting to see what gets commented on the most, or which post gets visited the most.

  10. Bucksome - Thanks for pointing out some exceptions. I knew they were there but couldn't think of anyone specifically when I was writing this.

    youngandthrifty - It's fascinating what conclusions people will come to when left to draw their own assumptions, but maybe there's something to it. There are widgets online that will guess the gender of a writer based on a writing sample. Apparently there have been some research studies showing women and men use words differently in their writing.

  11. Hi, I'm a former blogger, mom of a 13 month old, and a manager at a consulting firm. I was promoted to manager 2 years ago in my late 20's. I worked really hard to get that promotion pre-baby since I knew it would be harder to come by post-baby. I was promoted ahead of what I would consider to be several of my peers.

    I do have a MA unrelated to all of my post-higher education jobs that I got immediately after college.

    In my field (management consulting), an MBA is not required if you're smart, articulate, etc. Most organizations will promote based on skill, not degree or time in the job. So, I try to counsel my junior colleagues not to go for a MBA. Not sure if they'll take my advice. And if they do want to get a MBA, I tell them to do it sooner versus later (e.g. at age 25 versus age 28). I have several friends who got MBA's, graduated in a down market, and ended up in jobs they probably could have gotten without their MBA. I haven't asked them about how their salary is.

    BTW, I do know that I'm paid on the low end for my position (in the range of the starting salary for a MBA for a top B school is the low end of the range), but I also work a lot less than several of my peers in the same role. So while I would like to be paid more, my "hourly" salary is probably higher.