• the ratio of unemployed men to women is 1:1
  • on average the earning power of employed men to women is 1:1 (not true, but let's assume)
  • there is no difference in performance based on gender
  • but within certain industries there's a large gender gap, e.g. more women in nursing and teaching, more men in IT.

If each person is doing their job as well as someone of the opposite gender, each industry is equally welcoming of men and women (no harassment, etc.) what are we losing by not having equally balanced genders in each industry?

There are many male nurses and teacher, and many female IT professionals. As far as I'm aware, it's not difficult for a qualified man to get a nursing job, or a qualified woman to get an IT job, i.e. they won't be overlooked because they're the "wrong" gender for the industry.

Why should a program written by woman be more sought after than a program written by a man? If I was running a business, I wouldn't care if 20%, 50% or 80% of my workforce was a single gender, as long as each candidate could be proved to be the best fit (no gender bias during the hiring process).

Arguments I've heard for more women in IT include it's a waste of brain power. Why wouldn't it be a waste of brain power for the man who is displaced by the woman?

The current ratio in IT (I don't have figures for other industries) is about one woman for every five men, approximately 17% women, or 1 out 6 workers being women and 5 out of 6 workers being men. Let's say that all IT jobs are filled (people are saying there's a growing shortage if skilled workers) and we cut the male portion by 40% (2 of every 5) and triple the female portion (an extra 2 for every 1). Now 3 out of 6 workers are women and 3 out of 6 are men, 1:1. How is the quality of work any different? How does the company's profit improve? If there was a measurable increase in profit, why wouldn't companies already be offering female IT professionals higher salaries than men? How is anything any better except the diversity ratio?

This hypothetical situation is now more fair. What other metrics does diversity affect? It seems that it's an end in and of itself. In what way is gender balance better?

The arguments are basically that men and women are interchangeable and that the gender of a person doesn't matter to their job. If that's true, why is gender balance important? According to this theory, a 100% male or female IT team should perform equally well as a gender balanced team.

  • How do you measure performance? Why shouldn't the same job be paid the same?
    – jjack
    Dec 24, 2017 at 12:07
  • @jjack I don't understand your question. Who's saying the same job should be paid at different rates for different people? And performance is quite easy to measure. Most companies have KPIs that they measure their employees against.
    – CJ Dennis
    Dec 24, 2017 at 18:33
  • But measure individuals' performance? This is for organizations: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Performance_indicator
    – jjack
    Dec 24, 2017 at 18:39
  • @jjack "Key performance indicators (KPIs) are ways to periodically assess the performances of organizations, business units, and their division, departments and employees." In the companies I've worked at, individual KPIs have been very common.
    – CJ Dennis
    Dec 24, 2017 at 18:48
  • I don't know how this would be done if you don't work in a production line requiring you to put screws into an engine all day long. Different thought: The whole thing must rest on the assumption that women don't study tech because there are strong social forces against them and the gender gap shows this.
    – jjack
    Dec 24, 2017 at 21:36

3 Answers 3


To me the problem is largely centred around the fact that, historically, women have been relegated to secondary citizens in society, and it's only now, and only in certain parts of the world where they've been able to assert and strive for better conditions for themselves.

Strictly speaking, many of the arguments in your question are correct, and the debate on gender equality could definitely use a lot more subtlety, the problem is that human beings don't tend to be good with subtlety or grey areas. Everything usually has to be black and white.

And so yes, the debate as it stands is flawed, but the problem of gender equality as a whole is real, and the reason people care about issues like the pay gap in the first place is because they're interested in reducing inequality, even if from a place of ignorance or disingenuousness, and even if their arguments are not always logically sound.

So a more.. socially progressive, way to look at the debate is to recognise that inequality is a real thing and should be reduced where necessary.


The main concern is what you view as a fair society. Generally you can seperate between equallity of opportunity (1) vs equallity of outcome(2). Let's assume you have the current rate in IT and nursing that you described.

If any individual independant of sex has the same possibility to achieve any position in one field we can say (1) is the case and view the system as fair if fair is based on (1). However according to (2) it obviously isn't fair since the rates are not 50/50. To make it fair according to (2) leads to limiting/reducing the oppurtunities of man and increasing the opportunities of women making it unfair according to (1).

We therefore see that (1) and (2) exclude each other to a certain degree. If we remember the first case and say (1) is given. We would have to describe different patterns not by unfairness and rather other arguments.

Often the different choosing of jobs is understood as based on the socially constructed genderroles. However this can be questioned by studies that show that toddlers of human aswell as chimps prefer toys based on their sex. Females seem to prefer dolls(social) while males prefer objects(tools).

Coming back to the original issue we now have preferences involved that can explain why women prefer nursing(social) jobs and men prefer engineering(tools) jobs.

I therefore prefer fairness based on (1) because every one has the same possibility and can choose freely according to preference. While fairness based on (2) seems to want to make people choose something that goes against their preference just to "even the stats".

Diversity as you mentioned it, at this point is understood as more fairness (2) by the people supporting it. Which itself is motivated in improving lives while having the opposit effect.

Meanwhile it also allows to increase the size of the state, to check the diversity. Leading to not only more jobs by people motivated by such a view but also more power for them to control others. Making the governement more authoritarian, with them as judges. This can be done basically infinitily often since you can always subdivide groups more. Alowing a more easily application of the divide et impera tactic.

It furthemore allows to employ and sustain a group think perspective more easily which is highly questionable to me. Because the defining factor of a person is not the individual anymore and rather the group you are in. You don't have to compare the specific case of Bob and Mary and can just judge them by their sexes which is sexist but way simpler.

It also helps people sustain a positive view of themself. It's not I didn't get the job because the other is better, but rather I am better but the system is riged against me.

In general I think the course this leads to is some kind of communism which has shown to be totalitarian in nature, justified by the utopian view of equallity of outcome. The only real differences is that the argument is not based on ecconomics identies (rich vs poor) and rather on different identies.

However the actuallity is way more nuanced because it is hard to distinguish where actual injustice understood as not equality of opportunity is the case and where not.

  • The equal opportunity strategy 1 is flawed as well. We give equality at "start" and do not control differentiating process during "run", where wild, nonegalitarian factors may steal in. It is like letting "market forces to arrange everything" - putting off our responsibility. If you give equality of start and don't seek for equality of outcome egalitarism turns into empty declaration.
    – ttnphns
    Dec 25, 2017 at 4:35
  • I disagree with how you described the "the equal opportunity" and disagree with said notion aswell. I think equallity at start is not given and that the "run" should be controlled by institutions to guarantee that you get the same for the same amount and quality of work. This notion doesn't disagree whit more supptle notions to create a fairer start and outcome. However the key principle to me stays the fairness of effort in the general case.
    – CaZaNOx
    Dec 27, 2017 at 6:16

First, no one is calling for a gender ratio of exactly 1:1. Instead, highly unbalanced gender ratios are prima facie evidence of discrimination or some other problem. Say, if things were working as they should, probably we wouldn't see gender ratios of 3:1 or higher; but we do see gender ratios of 3:1 or higher; so probably things aren't working as they should.

Second, there is ample independent evidence, across many professional fields, of serious problems of sexual harassment, discrimination, workplace norms (60-hour work weeks or expectations that workers will be in the office until 8pm or later are incompatible with caring for children or sick family members), implicit bias, and so on. Specifically, in IT and computer software and hardware development, women played a major role in the first few decades of the field, then were explicitly pushed out as computer programming and engineering were transformed into highly-paid professional fields. The argument here is that these kinds of factors are themselves unjust and should be remedied, independent of their exact contribution to high gender ratios. In terms of your post, it's a remote counterfactual to suppose that "each industry is equally welcoming of men and women (no harassment, etc.)."

For some further points, I'm going to paste and lightly edit a short literature review that I recently wrote. I'm short on time, so you'll get academic references rather than hyperlinks.

There's a lot of work in history and philosophy of science looking at the impact of women and feminist scientists in specific fields (as specific as archaeology, primatology, embryology, neuroscience, physics, and so on). Two great collections of these examples are Schiebinger (1999) and Creager et al. (2001).

Briefly, most fields of research have always had a small number of women. Occasionally women have had a major impact on the development of the field, and this impact was lost as canonical histories simply ignored them. A good example is Émilie du Châtelet, who made some key contributions to the concepts of momentum and conservation of energy, but until recently was basically treated as Voltaire's secretary (http://projectvox.org/du-chatelet-1706-1749/).

Then, starting in the 1960s and '70s, many more women began to pursue graduate degrees and academic careers. Many of these women were self-identified feminists, and explicitly or implicitly brought critiques of sexism and androcentrism into their scientific fields. These critiques often identified sexist assumptions and stereotypical metaphors, such as "active" males vs. "passive" females (Beldecos et al. 1988). They also directed more attention to the activities of female animals or human women (Hrdy 2009). In some cases, the drive of redress sexism and androcentrism produced better methods in general. For example, concerns that primatologists were ignoring the activities of female primates led to the development and adoption of more rigorous sampling and observation protocols (see Fedigan's contribution to Creager et al. 2001).

Feminist and women scientists also challenged power structures within science and in the relationship between scientists and publics. Obviously sexual harassment is one example. I believe there's also evidence that women faculty do more work mentoring women students, as well as more diversity-and-inclusion-related service work. (The point that women faculty are often more burdened with service responsibilities then men, and so have less time to spend on primary research and teaching.) Women physicians played a role in the women's health movement (think /Our Bodies, Ourselves/), which was one of the major challenges to the paternalistic model of doctor-patient relationships. Feminist bioethics is a major area of bioethics, which has also changed the way researchers relate to human subjects.

Finally, the experiences of women and feminist scientists have challenged disinterested, impartial, or value-free notions of objectivity and scientific integrity (Longino 1990; Harding 1991; Hicks 2014). Some women scientists have brought a more "caring" perspective to their work, even in fields like genetics (Keller 1984). Feminist critiques have often showed that "objective" science actually involves implicit sexist assumptions (Fine 2010). And feminist scientists have often designed their research to help understand and address important social problems (Hill Collins 2000). In these kinds of cases, bringing in values has actually made science better.

[In the contemporary tech industry, we might consider the fact that many important critics of the social impacts of tech are women: Zeyenp Tufekci, Kate Crawford, Hanna Wallach, Cathy O'Neil, Julia Angwin. I recently spent a year as the kind of in-house ethicist with the National Robotics Initiative. This opportunity was created by a leadership team that was almost entirely women.]

Beldecos, A, S Bailey, S Gilbert, K Hicks, L Kenschaft, N Niemczyk, R Rosenberg, S Schaertel, and A Wedel. 1988. “The Importance of Feminist Critique for Contemporary Cell Biology.” Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 3 (1).

Creager, Angela N. H., Elizabeth Lunbeck, and Londa L. Schiebinger, eds. 2001. Feminism in Twentieth-Century Science, Technology, and Medicine. University of Chicago Press.

Fine, Cordelia. 2010. Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference. W. W. Norton & Company.

Harding, Sandra G. 1991. Whose Science? Whose Knowledge?: Thinking from Women’s Lives. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press.

Hicks, Daniel J. 2014. “A New Direction for Science and Values.” Synthese 191 (14):3271–95. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-014-0447-9.

Hill Collins, Patricia. 2000. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Rev. 10th anniversary ed. New York: Routledge.

Hrdy, Sarah Blaffer. 2009. The Woman That Never Evolved. Harvard University Press.

Keller, Evelyn Fox. 1984. A Feeling for the Organism, 10th Aniversary Edition: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock. Macmillan.

Schiebinger, Londa. 1999. Has Feminism Changed Science? Harvard University Press. http://books.google.ca/books?id=Fb232LIFk80C&printsec=frontcover&dq=intitle:has+feminism+changed+science&hl=&cd=1&source=gbs_api.

  • In Australia, 80% of primary school teachers are female, and they work around 55-60 hours per week. Doesn't this evidence go against your argument? Do you believe that male primary school teachers experience serious sexual harassment? Is this profession family friendly because of the number of women doing it, or family unfriendly because of its long hours? The part about being welcoming was hypothetical.
    – CJ Dennis
    Dec 24, 2017 at 19:31
  • What's the basis for the claim that "highly unbalanced gender ratios are prima facie evidence of discrimination or some other problem"?
    – jjack
    Dec 24, 2017 at 22:20
  • I guess it needs no basis. Just googled the meaning of "prima facie".
    – jjack
    Dec 24, 2017 at 23:00
  • So all of this is based on..., well...
    – jjack
    Dec 24, 2017 at 23:02

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