The Advantages (for Men) of Women at Work

In both the print and online versions of James Fallows’ recent article for the¬†Atlantic on manufacturing, the following line became a pull quote:

Many factory managers say openly that they prefer women: women, they say, learn new jobs faster, handle high-precision work better and pose fewer disciplinary challenges.

It’s an aside from the overall article, but it’s interesting to consider. But what really got me is the part that immediately follows (emphasis mine):

But as the modernizing Chinese economy creates more options for women, fewer of them are choosing factory work. That leaves men.

Among the consequences is greater fractiousness in the typical Chinese factory force. In September, a Foxconn plant in Shanxi province was temporarily closed because of a late-night riot that eventually involved several thousand workers. According to Louis Woo, the riot was touched off not by worker-management tensions but by the Chinese equivalent of an ethnic-gang war in an American prison, as workers from one province took the side of a colleague who was fighting a worker from somewhere else. This is the sort of thing that happens more frequently with more men in the workforce.

It is always difficult to talk about gender without getting wrapped up in nature versus nurture. How many of our strengths in the workforce come from innate advantages (physical strength or adaptability) versus learned behaviors and training (which can affect both those factors and many more)?

I seem to get in the most trouble – with others and with my own mind – when I engage in the old hormones game. Women have for far too long suffered under the cultural misperception that our judgment is impaired by ovulation and menstruation, and I do not wish to inflict the same limitations on men and their so-called “other brain.”

And yet, whether the cause of increased aggression among males is testosterone (as the Seattle Seahawks’ football coach recently argued in his defense); genetics, as a team of Australian researchers argued earlier this year; or cultures that glorify conflict, patterns like this bear out globally. Continue reading