Smart Design and the Power of Gender Perspectives

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Here are some highlights from this week's On Hiring and Diversity newsletter. If you'd like to subscribe, sign up here.

On the value of different perspectives ...

Two weeks ago, I pointed to a study by Swedish researchers that pokes a hole in one of the main arguments against gender quotas. While opponents of quotas have long predicted a horrific collapse of meritocratic principles should such targets ever be implemented — picture men displaced by underqualified women, “human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria,” to borrow a line from Ghostbusters — what the study revealed was an altogether different outcome: Gender quotas in the Swedish political system didn’t spark an apocalypse or a race to the bottom; they produced a more competent political class generally, particularly among the men, who had to compete with a broader array of people in a system that no longer favored them, the study’s authors found.

Setting aside the complicated question of whether such targets are effective — the jury is still out, though some countries that have quotas seem to like them, an article in the Harvard Business Review notes — an article in SWE Magazine (the quarterly publication of the Society of Women Engineers) recently highlighted the need to take gender perspectives into account not just in government and the boardroom, but in research as well. People generally don’t realize the extent to which the world is designed for men — even office air-conditioning systems, as a New York Times article and many women will attest. But in a world where half the population is female, thinking differently about design and integrating male and female gender perspectives into everything from algorithms to subways and seatbelts to stem-cell therapies isn’t just a matter of fairness; it’s smart policy, good for business, and saves lives, the magazine article concluded.

Speaking of smart design ...

A recent column in The New York Times reported that New York City’s subway is great, unless you’re in a wheelchair. Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, a Google software engineer and disability advocate who is herself a wheelchair user, learned the hard way that fewer than a quarter of the city’s subway stations are chair-friendly. She recounted the challenges she met at subway stops throughout the Big Apple and suggested that making them more accessible might help not only the disabled, but also parents pushing strollers, workers with handcarts, as well as travelers toting personal belongings.

Struggling against the odds is bad for your health.

Recent work by the Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton shows a dramatic increase in mortality rates among working-class white people in the U.S. and suggests that widespread job insecurity is taking a nasty toll on white Americans. It has also sparked an uproar among people who worry that shifting the focus of public attention to white mortality might give short shrift to persistently higher rates of black mortality, according to an article in The Washington Post.

It brought to mind a previous New York Times article, which suggests that racism has been hurting not only African-Americans’ job prospects but their health, too. We’ve long known that black men in the U.S. are more likely to develop high blood pressure and diabetes and live shorter lives on average than other people, wrote James Hamblin, a senior editor at The Atlantic, in an article for the Times. But biology isn’t to blame, added Mr. Hamblin, who also wrote If Our Bodies Could Talk: A Guide to Operating and Maintaining a Human Body: “Globally, there’s no association between skin color and the length of one’s life. This is an American phenomenon.”

He noted that a growing body of research pins African-Americans’ poor health outcomes on racism, not race: When “people work hard within a system that doesn’t afford them the same opportunities as others, their physical health deteriorates,” he explained, citing a 2015 study by a University of Georgia professor showing that among black teens from disadvantaged backgrounds, a strong will to succeed was tied to higher levels of cortisol — a stress hormone — and adrenaline in the blood, as well as an elevated risk of developing diabetes.

Those researchers appear to be onto something. While white participants were resistant to the unfortunate side effects of hopeless striving in that and similar previous studies, Hamblin observed, their immunity now seems to be eroding under new socioeconomic pressure. That supports the going theory that it’s the combo of stress, despair, and high-effort coping that’s been injuring people’s health the whole time. And that’s bad news for Americans of every color. As economic hardship and insecurity at the hands of technology and global and macroeconomic forces spreads, more of us could be at greater risk for health problems, too.

In somewhat related news ...

A new study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin suggests that impostor syndrome could be compounding the negative relationship between perceived discrimination and depression and anxiety among minority students, particularly African-Americans.

On leadership …

Meet the general who got the Air Force Academy talking about sexual assault.

The first woman to lead one of the nation’s elite military institutions recently sat down with a Chronicle reporter. Here’s what she had to say about being a woman in the academy, why it’s important to speak frankly about sexual assault, and what she's done to improve her institution's campus climate (for Chronicle subscribers).

If humble people make the best leaders, why are we suckers for charismatic jerks?

A recent article from the Harvard Business Review sheds some light on the matter.

Entrepreneur or evildoer?

Which Silicon Valley CEO could be a supervillain? An article on The Ringer considers the clues.

Here are some other stories that caught my eye.

Even work-life balance experts can't seem to get a life.

I don’t know whether to be comforted or depressed by their revelations in a recent New York magazine article.

New York City just took a big step toward closing the pay gap.

The city council has approved legislation that makes it unlawful for employers to ask prospective employees for their salary histories, an article on Fusion reports.

So did Philadelphia, but its chamber of commerce wants to walk it back.

The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia is suing the city over a similar newly signed salary-equity law that’s due to take effect on May 23, the Inquirer reports.

Guys, it's time to get off the sofa and start making some phone calls.

According to recent surveys, women not only do the more of the child care and housework and make the bulk of household decisions, they’re more politically active than men, too, a Lifehacker post says.

Questions, comments?

Have a suggestion for the newsletter or a tip or story idea to share? Send it to me at gabriela.montell@chronicle. com or @GabrielaMontell.

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