Chess gets woke

June 14, 2020

Today it was announced by Andrei Dorkonov, president of the International Chess Alliance (AIDE), that the organization will be doing its part in the ongoing conversation in support of people of color. Recognizing that the game of Chess has been inherently racist since its origins, its rules will be changed. As Dorkonov explained: “The game of chess exhibits the unpleasant principles of white supremacy. In the game, black and white do not start on equal footing: instead, white gets a massive boost to its chances to win by always being allowed to make the first move. This translates to clear disparate outcomes for the colors, to the detriment of black.” In order to compensate for centuries of oppression, for the next five years at least it will be the black player who gets to move first. The new rules hold for championship games, but Dorkonov expressed the hope that club players will incorporate the new rules too.

“This is only the first step,” Dorkonov added. “Chess has not only been an inherently racist game, it is sexist too. The King has always been the center piece of the game, with the Queen playing second fiddle. The roles of the Queen and King in the game will be reversed. This change will be introduced in the very near future.” Dorkonov agreed that this change by itself was insufficient to root out sexism from the game. “We realize that having only a queen and a king in the game denies the existence of other genders,” he said. “In 2021 we will therefore be introducing a new, non-binary piece to Chess.”

Activists have urged the AIDE to also rename the Bishop to “Imam.” Dorkonov explained that that is not an easy change to make, as there have been requests for changing the name to “Rabbi” and “Shaman” as well. However, the AIDE has relented to change the name of the Bishop to the more general term “Religious Figure.” Moreover, the moves of the Religious Figure piece will be determined by the players themselves based on their own convictions. As Dorkonov said: “We have learned that moving diagonally is taboo in certain religions, so the old rules were bigoted against particular faiths. We cannot condone that. Chess is all about inclusivity.”

Dorkonov admitted that the proposed changes have seen a lot of resistance from Chess players. “The complaints mainly come from the older generations of players,” he explained. “But discussions on Twitter have shown that the younger, more progressive crowd embraces the changes. The new rules provide the game of Chess with a refreshing and desperately needed modernization. They bring the game into the 21st century.”

https://globalnews.ca/news/7054942/magic-the-gathering-racist-cards-banned/


Picard is no more

April 9, 2020

Eternal alien artificial lifeforms exist far beyond known space. They know that any organic species will, in time and when sufficiently evolved, create artificial lifeforms. They also know that conflict between the organic and artificial species will inevitably lead to extinction of one or the other. Thus, these eternal alien artificial lifeforms wait for a signal from our galaxy that once again, artificial life has been created. When they receive this signal, they will come, and exterminate all intelligent organic life, so that the cycle of evolution can begin once again. In our galaxy in the near future, the dangers that artificial lifeforms form for organic beings have been recognized, and intelligent artificial lifeforms have been outlawed. The few remaining artificial lifeforms which escaped the ban exist away from organic lifeforms, and want to activate the signal to bring the eternal aliens back.

Any video game player will recognize in the previous paragraph the outline of the plot of the Mass Effect series. Those who are more inclined to watch TV series will recognize the plot of Star Trek: Picard. Yup, Star Trek: Picard rips off the plot of Mass Effect in great detail.

This is not the biggest sin of Star Trek: Picard. The plot of Mass Effect is quite good, and you can base a good TV series around it. Unfortunately, Star Trek: Picard is not good. Not good at all. To list a few (just a few!) of the boneheaded, cliché-ridden, cringe-inducing plot elements from the very last episode of this series alone:

  • The Romulans go after a tiny settlement of twenty androids with a fleet of no less than 218 battleships. Because then we can send in the Federation with several hundreds of battleships of their own to get a big flashy battle in space.
  • Picard claims to have a great and deeply emotional friendship with Data, even though until Data’s death we have never ever seen him being friends with Data.
  • A female protagonist who betrayed the rest of the crew by violently killing the person who Picard spent five episodes on to find, even after confessing her crime merrily joins up with the rest of the crew, everybody conveniently forgetting about what she did.
  • The main male villain who seduced the main female hero, suddenly turns against his own side because “he has fallen in love with her.”
  • …It was all because of an ancient prophecy…
  • Characters swear like sailors and call each other “dude.”
  • The crew is gifted a small gadget which you can let do anything by just wishing it (seriously!), even projecting hundreds of starships into space, which look real to even the sensors of hundreds of enemy battleships. It’s a magic wand, people!
  • Picard dies and everybody cries over his dead body for half an hour, but then he gets resurrected by being placed into an android body which looks exactly like his and is exactly as frail and will even die like his “because that is what he is used to.”
  • While dead, Picard converses with Data in the afterlife — but actually it is a remnant of the real Data, even though it is never brought up how a dead Picard can converse with a real Data. “Their memories are stored in the same computer.” Yeah, no shit, that explains nothing. The only reason that it happened is that it was so emotional when Harry Potter did it.
  • A retired Riker decides to stop baking pizzas and leave his retirement home for a few moments to command a fleet of several hundreds of starships. Evidently nobody was better suited to do that.
  • An android which can detect whether people lie is lied to without detecting it, with no other explanation given then “wow, I am really good at lying.”
  • An android kills another android to let one of the captured villains escape, because… well, I cannot think of any reason why she would do that because it is in no way related to her plans, except that it is in the story because it gives the other androids a reason to turn against her.
  • A main villain is thrown into a pit and dies far away from and completely unrelated to the rest of the story, because the writers realized that they had not finished her plotline yet. And they had to give Seven-of-nine something to do.
  • In the final moments of the episode Seven-of-nine is suddenly in a lesbian relationship with another protagonist without them having ever interacted before or even having anything in common with each other. I can think of no other reason that this was thrown in there than the writers thinking “Wait a moment, we can’t show how woke we are if we don’t have any gay romances in our series.”
  • The whole plot point of artificial lifeforms being outlawed is solved in the last minute by someone remarking that it is a good thing that artificial lifeforms are now no longer outlawed. So, the Federation quickly and without a second thought lifts the ban on artificial lifeforms, while knowing that each of the artificial lifeforms has the ability to wipe out all organic life in the galaxy? Are they completely out of their minds?

And the rest of the series is almost as bad. But the worst sin of Star Trek: Picard is this: it ruins Picard even more than The Next Generation movies did. In the TV series Picard was a private, thoughtful, rational, erudite man with a sharp mind and an uncanny ability to inspire and command. The movies ruined him by portraying him as an action hero who is out for blood, who lets his emotions determine his course of action, and who uses violence instead of reason. In the Star Trek: Picard series, the final nail is driven into the coffin by portraying him as a frail old man, humiliated and bossed over by everyone around him, driven by his emotional ties to people rather than his intellectual ties to ideals and ideas. He is less than a shadow of the man he once was.

You can argue that captain Picard in his older days has mellowed and changed his outlook on life. That is an acceptable premise, but since we see almost nothing of the twenty years which are between the end of The Next Generation TV series and the time of the new series, we have no idea how it is possible that he changed so much that nothing of the younger Picard remains in the present-day Picard. And a series which carries the name of a famous character should not change the eponymous character into something completely different than what he is famous for.

Star Trek: Picard looks great, has fine music, and is well-acted, but sadly has stupid plotlines and has forgotten about its intellectual roots and the characterization of its main characters. Star Trek: Picard is neither Star Trek nor is it Picard.


English translation of AI experts’ futurology

January 22, 2020

Very regularly, you hear self-proclaimed AI expert make statements like “within 5 years, we will have…” followed by an indication of a technology which requires semi-intelligent processing (like self-driving cars, computer-authored novels, or brain-computer uploading). This is how one should translate such statements:

If AI experts say:

  • “within 5 years”: they mean “we already have this technology, it is just not widespread yet.”
  • “within 10 years”: they mean “we do not have this technology yet, but we know how to solve the problems that still need solving.”
  • “within 25 years”: they mean “we need to overcome numerous problems to get this technology and we do not know if they are solvable at all, but we are convinced that theoretically these problems should be solvable by the very smart young people that are currently entering the field.”
  • “within 50 years”: they mean “maybe this technology will be developed and maybe not, and even if it will be, it may take 50 years, or 500, or 5000, and humanity is likely to have destroyed itself before that time, but making these promises will get me a lot of media attention so I make them anyway, and 50 years is long enough for me to have passed away before anyone can tell me that I am wrong.”

The moral of the story is: most self-proclaimed AI experts love to make promises about technology which will be developed, but the less we know about how to solve the problems associated with said technology, the further in the future they will place the technology. You should realize that if a problem has not been solved yet, in principle it is impossible to say when it will be solved — because you can only say that when the problem has been solved already.


Diversity IX: Google’s wage discrimination

April 8, 2018

Last year, Google was accused by the US Department of Labor of discriminating against female employees as far as salaries are concerned. This is surprising, as Google is known for being a company which is overtly committed to, what they call, “equal pay practices.” It is also striking that the accusation came without any supporting data.

Eileen Naughton, Vice President of People Operations, wrote a memo explaining how Google determines wages. In general, this is how it works:

First, they determine what the compensation should be for a person at a certain job level, with a certain role, at a certain location, with a certain job performance. That determines the basic compensation for a person in a certain job category. The salary can be adjusted a bit by an employee’s manager, provided that the manager can provide a legitimate rationale. This procedure is blind with respect to gender.

Then, for every job category they compare the average of the compensation of men and women. If they find that there are statistically significant differences between the genders, they adjust the compensation at a group level, regardless whether this favors men or women. As Naughton states, they tend not to find any gender pay gap, so in practice such adjustments need not be made. They also do a similar comparison based on race, and no race pay gap is found either. (I do wonder why they do not also do an analysis for nationality, age, physical ability, level of education, height, and other attributes that are said to influence salary, but perhaps they get to those in the future.)

Overall, I do not fault Google for doing such an analysis. As a high-profile tech company, they tend to bear the brunt of the accusations regarding sex and race discrimination, and it is only wise that they have their defenses in order. It just gives me an uneasy feeling that the last step of their comparison methodology, adjusting salary based on which group one belongs to, is rather discriminating.

Considering how they set up their compensation plan, where they determine objectively what a person should earn with a certain job level, role, location, and performance, regardless of race, gender, or other personal attributes, there cannot be differences between the sexes by definition. So it is no wonder that their comparison procedure never finds them. The whole comparison feels completely superfluous.

The problem is what happens when their procedure does find some differences. Where did these come from? Evidently these point out that either an error was made somewhere in the original determination of earnings, or that the individual adjustments that managers make — with legitimate rationales, mind you — end up rewarding on average one gender a bit more than the other. If this then leads to an increase of the salaries of one gender, that amounts to gender discrimination.

For suppose you are a woman who does a good job but not so exceptional that her manager proposes to give her a slightly higher reward, and you are surrounded by women who do get their salaries positively adjusted. If this then leads to an average difference between the salaries of the sexes, you will see all the men who perform exactly like you getting their salaries increased, while yours stays the same. Basically, you are punished because some other members of “your group” perform exceptionally well.

In my view, Google’s initial determination of earnings, based purely on what an individual does within the company, with some individual adjustments possible for exceptional performance, is the ultimate meritocratic way of rewarding employees. Doing a check at a group level, partly to ward off accusations and partly to see if the system works as intended, is only smart. Incorporating a step that bluntly adjusts salaries at a group level if the check points out that there are significant differences between certain groups, rather than finding out how these differences came about, is just discriminatory.


Diversity VII: Red vs. green

February 12, 2018

In discussing the wage gap (the average difference in per-hour earnings of men and women), the main statement I see being brought up is “The fact that on average women earn less than men per hour is unfair towards women.” The general rebuttal is: “You have to look at the underlying reasons for that difference,” to which the response is: “You can talk about underlying reasons until you are blue in the mouth, but at the end of the day women earn less than men, which is unfair.”

The wage gap appears to be not unfair, however. It is the result of individual decisions which people make. The correct characterization of the wage gap is not “women earn less than men,” but “people who make choices A, B, and C earn less than people who make choices D, E, and F.” Because on average women tend to make life choices which give them less earning potential than men, on average women earn less than men — however, on an individual basis a woman who makes particular choices earns just as much as a man who makes the same choices (actually, there are indications that at present, especially in the younger generations, women earn a bit more than men with the same choices).

You do not have to believe me in this respect: you just have to study the reports of the official institutions which examine the differences between men and women in the job market, such as the reports of the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) and the United States Department of Labor, which point out that there are many clear reasons for the observed average differences in earnings, but that gender discrimination, if it even is one of them, has an unnoticeable effect. Thus, since it is not gender discrimination at work, the wage gap is not unfair.

Because all of this is rather abstract, I thought I would illustrate it with a highly simplified example. Imagine that there is a country called Bicoloria, where there live red and green people. There are only two industries in Bicoloria, which are of about equal size, namely a food industry which feeds the Bicolorians, and an art industry which provides the Bicolorians with entertainment. All Bicolorians work in one of these industries. The food industry, which has fairly unpleasant work circumstances, pays 200 credits per hour. The art industry, in which the work is much more pleasant, pays 150 credits per hour. The majority of red Bicolorians prefers the pleasant, artistic work in the art industry, while the majority of green Bicolorians is more interested in getting the high wages (and thus status) of the food industry. The net result is that 70% of the workers in the food industry are green, while 70% of the workers in the art industry are red.

Someone calculates that on average, a green Bicolorian earns 12% more than a red Bicolorian. “That’s unfair towards red Bicolorians!” is the outcry. Red Bicolorians say: “It is systemic oppression of the reds by the greens!” and “How are we going to explain to young reds that over the course of their lives they will earn significantly less than greens?” But is this 12% difference in earnings really unfair? Because reds have a preference for jobs that pay less per hour, and choose jobs that they prefer, on average they earn less per hour. However, an individual red who decides to work in the food industry, earns just as much as an individual green who works in the food industry.

Moreover, what would be the effect of trying to solve this illusion of injustice? I have heard several possibilities, all of which have very negative consequences. Here are three ideas (each of which I have derived from actual discussions on the wage gap, and some of which have been implemented by particular governments and industries):

Idea #1: Increase the salaries of all reds by 12%. While this will make sure that the average salaries of reds and greens are equal, in every industry reds will earn 12% more than greens for doing exactly the same work. That is unfair.

Idea #2: Stimulate reds to work more in the food industry, and greens to work more in the art industry. This can be implemented using social engineering programs, which try to push people in particular directions. Many of such programs have been tried out in Western countries (e.g., stimulating men to take part-time jobs, and stimulating women to go into STEM fields). If these programs have the desired effect, they will indeed erase the wage gap. However, in general, it is found that the effect of such programs is negligible, as long as people are still allowed to follow their own preferences. Naturally, they can be made more effective by actually forcing people in different fields than they prefer, which leads to an overall significant decrease in happiness. I assume that nobody thinks that a good policy encompasses giving up freedom of choice.

Idea #3: Equalize pay between jobs, i.e., let both the food industry and the art industry pay 175 credits per hour. Overall, the same amount will be spent on salaries, thus this can be implemented with higher taxation on food and giving subsidies to the art industry. Again, the initial result will be that the wage gap between reds and greens will be eradicated. This is a typical socialist or communist system, in which there is no link anymore between what you do and what you earn. The natural follow-up will be that most people will no longer want to work in the unpleasant food industry, as the higher salaries of the food industry were the compensation for the work being less pleasant. The net result, which is common to any socialist or communist system, is that people can no longer be free to take a job of their choosing, and that most people will not be motivated to do a good job anyway (as you do not get rewarded for doing a good job), leading to poverty, unhappiness, hunger, and corruption.

In summary, “solutions” to the wage gap either unfairly give bonuses to individuals of particular groups just because they belong to those groups, or take away freedom of choice. Both these directions are infringing upon the core Western values of equal treatment of all people and individual freedom for all people.

The wage gap is the result of a system which allows individuals, with their individual differences, to follow their own preferences in making life choices. It does not affect individuals; it is no more than a statistic which you can attach to a group. It is the necessary consequence of there being differences between preferences of the sexes in general and a beautiful system which honors individuality.


Surface Pro 3 hotness

February 2, 2018

So, my Microsoft Surface Pro 3 died. It would not start up again. I tried the Microsoft solutions, which were the following four possibilities: (1) Press the Power button. (2) Press the Power button for 30 seconds then press it for 2 seconds. (3) Press the Power button together with the Volume Up button for 15 seconds. (4) Send your Surface Pro 3 away for repair.

Nothing worked, apart from maybe the Repair option, but as the price for repairing is about the same as for a completely new Surface, I did not want to go for that option — in particular as I had backups of everything apart from the last three days or so.

For half a day, I regularly pressed the Power button for shorter and longer times, and googled for diverse terms that were about dead Surfaces. After a while I hit a particular discussion thread. It first seemed to consist of a bunch of jokers, but since my Surface was a brick anyway, I put it, as recommended, into the freezer for half an hour, then thawed it, and tried again. That did not work.

Before putting it into the freezer once more, I followed a different recommendation, which was to heat the Surface from the back with a hair dryer for a couple of minutes. Without an expectations I did that, and lo-and-behold: after two minutes of “drying” the Surface suddenly booted up again! Its backside, at the time, was clearly heated, but not extensively so. It cooled off in a minute or 2 to room temperature. The fan did not even need to go into overdrive.

I immediately made backups of my latest files, because I don’t trust that it will remain working — if it does, fine, but I am going to order a new one soon.

I know this is not much of a story, but I wanted to put it up just in case someone has the same problem and is willing to try anything. The Surface is a lovely machine, but the fact that it is almost impossible to repair, and the fact that if it dies you lose all the contents, makes it a bit of a risk to use.

Be careful if you try this — make sure in particular that the thing is really dead –, but it might be a way out should you get into similar troubles. And remember: nothing beats regular backups.


Diversity interlude

April 24, 2017

I don’t know if I am yet done with the topic of diversity. The discussions about diversity are currently rather intense, and I feel I still have to say quite a bit about it. In general, I have noticed that my position is that diversity is based for at least a considerable part in biology, while those who are on the side of social engineering are of the opinion that it is all culturally determined. In that respect, I discovered a fascinating series of documentaries by the Norse comedian and sociologist Harald Eia, called “Hjernevask“. I haven’t yet completed watching them, but up to now I am pretty surprised about some of his discoveries. The two things that stand out to me are: (1) the role of biology in determining differences between genders and races is much bigger than I had previously assumed, and (2) evidently in “enlightened” western countries such as Norway the thought that differences can be the result of biology is actively shunned even by people whose job it is to know better. Heartily recommended.


Diversity III: Diverse equalities

April 8, 2017

This post is a follow-up to my post on the wage gap, and my post on the glass ceiling. In these posts I showed that there is no reason to assume that gender discrimination is at work in determining the salaries or promotion chances of women.

In The Netherlands, “equality” is generally seen as an ultimate good. Which is why underrepresentation of women and minorities in professions and organizations is often seen as inherently wrong. Certain political movements have made fighting inequality into a main feature of their program. For instance, minister Jet Bussemaker is quite miffed about the fact that only 18% of full professors in The Netherlands are female, and she therefore forces universities to appoint more women to such positions. For 100 new female full professors she makes extra money available for the next five years, and on top of that she also wants universities to put women on 200 chairs that are currently held by men.

Basically, this means that Bussemaker wants to change the top selection criterion for appointing someone to the position of full professor from “we want the best person for the job” to “we want someone who has no Y-chromosome.”

For me, a major question is why she (and with her many others, such as professor Derks) believes that the underrepresentation of women in this area is the result of “inequality.” The straightforward line of thinking that is commonly held, is that 50% of society consists of women, and thus, if women were treated equal to men, 50% of full professors would be women. Naturally, such a thought process is too simplistic. It is a silly notion to divide Dutch citizens according to particular criteria such as gender, immigration status, age, sexual orientation, or physical attributes, and then expect that the percentages you end up with are reflected by a certain profession. As I showed in the previous two posts, if you take into account unequal participation in the job market, the 18% female full professors that we have now are close to what you may expect if men and women have equal opportunities (assuming that in academics the statistics for job participation are about average for The Netherlands).

The point is that what minister Bussemaker and others like her want to see are not equal opportunities, but equal outcomes. What they fail to acknowledge is that if you confront 100 men and 100 women who already hold a good job with the prospect of another job with more status, offset by a greater workload and higher responsibility, 80 of the 100 men will accept that job, while 80 of the 100 women will walk away. In our society where people are given a lot of freedom of choice, women tend to make different choices than men, and thus equal opportunities do not lead to equal outcomes.

Assuming that minister Bussemaker does not want to take away freedom of choice, there are only two ways open to get a higher percentage of female professors: either making men less ambitious, or lowering the requirements for women (and only for women) to get the job. I have no idea how you would accomplish the first, so I am not surprised that she chose the latter.

Yes, I know that there are female associate professors who are ready to become full professors. But there are far more male associate professors with the same ambition. In an equal-opportunities environment, which we have now, you end up with more men being appointed than women, because with the same quality there are more men than women available for the job. When I say that Bussemaker lowers the requirements for women to become professors, I am not saying that that puts universities in a position where they are forced to promote female associate professors who are not ready to become full professors — I am only saying that these women no longer have to compete on a level playing field with men. It is possible for them to do a worse job than some men would do, and still be chosen for promotion over those men.

Professor Derks states that women do not want to adapt to the standards set by men. I assume that she means that many women want to be full professors in a part-time job with a nice balance between their work and home life. This sounds a lot like having your cake and eating it too. In practice, as with most high-demand jobs, being a full professor entails sacrificing much of your home life for your work. It is really a tough job. Maybe that is a standard set by men, but it means that if, as a woman, in an equal-opportunities environment you want to compete with men, you have to meet that standard. By replacing the equal-opportunities environment with an equal-outcomes environment, women can get away with doing a worse job than men.

In sports, women usually do not compete with men, as men tend to be physically stronger and faster. Consequently, female sports are seen as inferior to male sports. By creating a special academic division for women to compete in, where standards are lowered, you create a situation in which female academic achievements are seen as inferior to male academic achievements. If I were a female professor today, who clearly got the job because she competed successfully on a level playing field with men, I would not be happy about that.

The 100 extra positions that Bussemaker creates are filled by women only, which leads to a situation where some top-quality men see full professorships going to women who, even if they do a good job, do a worse job than these men would do. And if the rest of Bussemaker’s plans get executed, they know that their chances to ever be promoted are diminishing rapidly, as they have to compete for a decreasing number of positions. If I was a young man who was contemplating a career in academics today, considering the unequal treatment of men and women and the lowered career prospects, I would probably choose a job outside the academic world, regardless of how much I love scientific research. All in all, the policies of Bussemaker may do serious harm to the quality of Dutch academics.

In conclusion, the belief that forcing universities to appoint more female professors will resolve some sort of societal injustice is misguided. In fact, it creates a societal injustice by lowering the standards that women need to meet to become full professors, while increasing them for men.

I wish to point out that there is another solution for the problem that certain female associate professors are not getting promoted, even though they are ready for it. That solution is to make the promotion to full professor an automated process when you meet certain criteria. This is the case in many countries outside The Netherlands, such as the UK. If you do the work, you get the position. I am in high favor of that.

Making the promotion to full professor based on individual accomplishments rather than the academic structure with only a limited number of available chairs, has the added benefit that there will be more full professorships in The Netherlands, and thus the requirements for the job may be slightly lowered for men as well as women.


Diversity II: Diverse choices

April 6, 2017

This post continues my previous post on the topic of diversity, in which I discussed the first part of the sentence “Women still earn less and are slower to be promoted” (lifted from an article in De Volkskrant). In the present post, I delve into the second part. Is it true that women are slower to be promoted, and if so, is that (as is often suggested) the result of gender discrimination?

What I assume the author is referring to with the second part of their statement is the fact that the representation of women in higher positions in companies and organizations is considerably less than the representation of men. In the academic world in the Netherlands, for instance, only 18% of full professorships are held by women.

There is no debate about the fact that women are underrepresented in higher positions. What is up for debate is whether this is the result of gender discrimination. Despite the often-expressed but seldom-substantiated notion of some sort of “glass ceiling” that keeps women down, I would argue that the state of affairs is mostly the result of personal choices.

In The Netherlands, almost every job can be done part-time. In practice, we find that men usually take full-time jobs, while women predominantly choose to work part-time. According to the Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS), in The Netherlands in 2017, only 33% of working men held a part-time job, compared to 78% of working women. The ministry of OCW (Education, Culture, and Science) reports that, on average, women have a work-week of 25 hours, while men have a work-week of 36 hours, i.e., on average women work 1.5 days less per week than men. It also reports that only 71% of women between 20 and 65 years of age have a job, as opposed to over 82% of men.

Referring to statements of professor Derks in the interview I mentioned above, working part-time has a big influence on career opportunities — thus, if you are interested in having a career, you should realize that working full-time is more or less a necessity. The detrimental effects of working part-time are two-fold:

First, when working part-time you simply accomplish less in your career in the same number of years than someone with the same abilities who works full-time. This leads to a lower status among peers, and a less impressive CV.

Second, professing the desire to work part-time shows a lack of ambition and motivation, which consequently leads to a reduced willingness of an employer to hand out a promotion.

The second effect is in line with differences between the average man and the average woman in how they view work (see, for instance, the report from Monsterboard). Typically, men are more driven by status than women: men far more than women seek a higher salary, possibilities for personal growth and development, independence, and responsibility; women far more than men seek possibilities to work part-time, possibilities to work from home, and a nice balance between work and home life. You may translate that as “on average, women are less invested in their work than men.” That cannot help in having a career. The employer who says: “What I really want from my personnel is that they focus on their home life” has not been born yet.

Note that by no means I am saying that all women lack the motivational drive, the capacity, the experience, and the willingness to have a career. Obviously a considerable number possess these attributes, which is why we see such women in higher positions. They made the choice to invest in their work rather than their personal life, just like many men do.

It is a great benefit of our society that one can actually choose how to balance work and home life. But when someone chooses to be less invested in work, he or she should expect having a hard time getting into higher positions. That holds for women as well as for men. Since, in general, women tend to be much less invested in work than men, it is not surprising that in higher positions, the number of women dwindles. Whether or not the prevalence of women in part-time jobs fully explains the low number of women in higher positions is unknown. Saying that it is the result of gender discrimination, however, is unwarranted.

The only extensive scientific research on the topic that I could find is an article by Williams and Ceci of Cornell University in PNAS, who found that for tenured assistant-professor positions in biology, engineering, economics, and psychology in the US, if you compare female candidates with male candidates of equal quality and matching lifestyles, the chance for female candidates to be hired is twice as high as the chance for male candidates. The conclusion is that gender discrimination is at work here, but it is to the considerable advantage of women.

I wish to finalize this discussion with a simple calculation. Knowing that 82% of men have a job against 71% of women, and that 67% of working men have a full-time job against 22% of women, if we assume that there are about the same number of men and women between the ages of 20 and 65, that means that 78% of the people who work full-time are men, against only 22% women. If we compare that 22% with the 18% of women with full professorships in The Netherlands, it strikes me that these numbers are pretty close. So, while 18% sounds low, it is actually close to what you can expect if you take into account the generally accepted assumption that working full-time is a requirement for getting a high-end job.

In summary, there is no reason to assume that the underrepresentation of women in higher positions in companies and organizations is the result of gender discrimination. Still, there are political forces at work that try to enforce placing more women in higher positions. These forces are particularly strong in the academic world, where universities are ordered by ruling politicians to appoint more women as full professors. What I think about those forces I will discuss in a follow-up post.


Diversity I: Diverse wages

April 1, 2017

The term “diversity” refers to the uniqueness of individuals. In policy making, the theme of “diversity” refers to the inclusion of underrepresented groups of people in particular functions or domains.

In recent years, the theme of “diversity” has infiltrated many aspects of society, and now has serious impact on policies in governmental matters and professional life. I am quite wary about the effects of the diversity discussions. It is such a complex theme, however, that it is hard to formulate statements on it, without running serious risks of finding oneself under a bombardment of accusations of being some kind of –ist or –phobe, which then puts an end to any chance of getting into a civil parlay.

I think that the discussions around this theme, now they are widely politicalized, will only intensify in the coming years. As a scientist, I have the responsibility to deal with these matters as objectively as possible. As I am increasingly involved in policy making and providing advice in matters of policy, it is important to me to be able to express opinions in this domain that are as close as possible to the truth, without letting emotions and political pressure get in the way.

Today’s ranting is instigated by an interview in the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant with Belle Derks, professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Utrecht University, specialized in “gender equality.” I had many thoughts while reading this interview, and I might get back to it in the coming days. For now, I want to zoom in to the second sentence of the main text of the article, which is “Vrouwen verdienen nog altijd minder en klimmen minder snel op naar hogere functies” (“Women still earn less [than men] and are slower to be promoted”). For clarity, I wish to point out that this is not a statement of professor Derks as far as I can see, but part of the introduction of the journalists.

The quoted sentence is factually correct, but it suggests something that is factually wrong, namely that women get discriminated as far as their wages and promotion opportunities are concerned. With respect to wages, one only needs to read the report of the CBS (the Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics, a governmental organization that prepares reports on all aspects of Dutch social and economic life) on this matter, which is available from their website. This report investigates specifically gender differences in salaries in The Netherlands, and is updated up to the year 2014. In this report one can read the following:

For jobs in companies, the hourly salary of women is about 20% less than that for men. For government jobs, the difference is 10%. However, these numbers are not corrected for differences in actual work, i.e., it just averages the hourly wages of all women that have a job, and all men that have a job, regardless of position, education, or responsibilities. If you correct the differences for about 20 factors, which include age, experience, and position, then the percentages drop to 7% and 5%, respectively.

Does that mean that gender is the explanation for the remaining salary differences? The CBS report states that there is no reason to suppose that gender discrimination is at work here, as there are quite a few factors that can explain the remaining differences, which they were unable to take into account for lack of detailed information. These are, among others, motivation, job level, and secondary employment conditions such as exchanging salary for extra vacation days. As the report states that women are far more likely than men to work part-time, one might expect that in particular women would take the opportunity to sacrifice some salary for extra spare time, though the report does not delve into that.

As there are plenty factors available that may explain the remaining small differences in average wages between men and women, the CBS found no indication that gender discrimination is an explanation for these wage differences. I think that settles the matter.

What I found particularly interesting is that the report also made clear that up to 36 years of age, women actually earn a higher salary than men for doing the same work. However, again this has nothing to do with gender, but with the fact that among younger people, women have, on average, a higher education than men. Between 36 and 45 years of age, there are no significant differences in salaries between men and women. Over 45 years of age, men tend to earn more than women, for which an easy explanation is that in those age groups, men tend to have a higher education and more job experience than women.

How these trends will be extrapolated to the future is hard to say. If many women between 30 and 40 years of age are losing interest in work and accept lower salaries for, for instance, a more extensive home life, the picture might remain as it is now. If women keep focusing just as much as men on their careers and earnings, clearly in about 30 years, women will on average earn more than men in all age groups.

The discussion above has contextualized the first part of the sentence “Women still earn less and are slower to be promoted,” and refutes the suggestion that women earn less than men because of gender discrimination. The second part needs another discussion, which I will get to later.

For now, the conclusion is that in The Netherlands a small gender wage gap exists, but that there is no reason to think that the explanation for it has to do with gender discrimination.