This week, former Dragon's Den panellist and magazine publisher Norah Casey launched her annual Planet Woman Academy initiative. It is essentially a motivational conference for women in business – neatly capturing the current zeitgeist – and past speakers include PayPal's Louise Phelan and Communicorp's Lucy Gaffney.
It takes place this year at the RDS in Dublin in May and Casey was busy this week plugging early bird tickets for €135.
Earlier this month, however, she also promoted a four-minute teaser video from Planet Woman about the very real shortage of women in senior roles in business. It was basically a bright and breezy run through of facts and figures, highlighting the challenges facing women, and the statistical advantages enjoyed by men.
The problem is that several of the facts and figures are either plain wrong or have been largely discredited.
The lack of women directors and, more pressingly, the shortage of women senior managers are real and righteous issues. We’ve discussed enough of the data on these pages to know that. But you never help a righteous cause by using wrong figures, no matter how much they suit your narrative.
Casey’s video opens with the hoary old cliché that women do “66 per cent of the world’s work . . . but only earn 10 per cent of the world’s income”. As a scene-setter for a conversation about gender inequality, this statistic is both infuriating and useful.
But it is also a zombie fact, with no basis in reality, that keeps re-emerging in feminist internet memes, no matter how often it is debunked.
It went viral in a 2015 Oxfam tweet about women's purported share of global income. The charity originally attributed it to a United Nations report. However, the Washington Post's excellent "fact checker" service later established that the United Nations report writer mangled an already historically inaccurate statistic.
A US academic traced the first mention of the purported fact to a 1978 publication from the International Labour Organisation, Women in Work, which threw it out there with no attribution whatsoever. In the four decades since, it has taken on mythical status in the world of feminism. Myths make good stories. But they are almost never true. Both Oxfam and the UN now admit the statistic is wrong.
Women clearly earn far less of global income than men, but they earn more than 10 per cent. The
cited rigorous studies that put women’s share at just over a third – still far too low, but nowhere near as inflammatory as a 10 per cent claim looks in a discussion about gender inequality. The
rated the claim that was repeated by Planet Woman at “four pinocchios – bogus, unworthy of citation”.
The Planet Woman video then makes the argument that “companies with female board directors outperform those with none”. There is a volume of anecdotal evidence to support this, although the academic evidence is more flimsy.
Casey’s video relied upon, but did not source, statistics including that companies with women board directors – it didn’t say what proportion – have a “66 per cent higher return in invested capital” . . . “and a 53 per cent high return on equity”.
The video didn’t say what that was in comparison to.
A Google search reveals these figures first emerged in an 11-year-old study by Catalyst, a US lobby group for women in business. But it only cited them when comparing companies that had the “highest percentage” of women directors with those that had the lowest. Planet Woman seemed to suggest that putting any number of women on a board boosts financial returns by two-thirds, which is a different context.
One male poster on Casey’s LinkedIn page last week suggested to her that many of the claims on the video have been debunked by academic research. This week, his post had been removed. Nevertheless, he was broadly correct.
No statistical effect
A recent study by Wharton School management professor Katherine Klein, based on peer-reviewed research, concludes that the data does not show that having women directors improves performance. Nor does it disimprove it. It simply has no statistical effect at all, which is actually a fantastic argument in favour of gender equality.
Having women on your board doesn’t automatically make it a better business. It just makes it a fairer business. That is reason enough to do it. So why not just say that, instead of relying on sexed up evidence to make women sound like corporate geniuses?
The Planet Woman video then claimed there are no female chief executives or chairs at any of the “top 20 Irish companies”. This is presumably a reference to the Iseq20 grouping of the largest listed businesses in the State. It is also wrong.
Siobhán Talbot is chief executive of Glanbia, an Iseq20 stalwart; Francesca McDonagh runs Bank of Ireland, the largest bank in the State and another member of the index; Margaret Sweeney is chief executive of Ires Reit, another constituent; and Rose Hynes is chairman of Origin Enterprises, another Iseq20 member.
The coterie of senior women executives in Irish listed businesses is far, far too small. But it doesn’t serve anybody’s purpose to claim those women do not exist.
The video then says Irish women are better educated than men, which is verifiably true when you look at the proportion with third-level qualifications (55 per cent of women versus 43 per cent of men).
But the video illustrates this with a silly cartoon of a teacher asking a simple maths question, which is duly answered by the girl in the class. Meanwhile, a boy sits nearby with his head in his hands, unable to answer the same question.
The Planet Woman video doesn’t just suggest that women are better educated, it suggests they are more intelligent compared to dunce males.
Apart from being unsupported by any evidence, how does it further the interests of women in business to peddle such divisive, rage-baiting, inflammatory nonsense?
- Two days before Christmas, Kildare developer Jerry Conlan got final planning permission from An Bórd Pleanála for a huge redevelopment of the much-loved Central Hotel in Dublin, which will almost double its number of rooms.
As part of the project, Conlan will expand the footprint into several nearby shops on the largely-listed row of attractive, red-brick buildings.
One of the addresses listed for expansion, for example, is also the current address of the hip Aungier Danger bakery.
Where are the city’s hipsters supposed to get their doughnuts, if Aungier Danger is, as it appears, potentially affected by the hotel’s expansion?
But most worrying detail of the redevelopment – if you are aged in your 30s – is what it could mean for the nightclub, Rí Rá.
Almost every Dublin resident who came of age during the Celtic Tiger from the late 1990s onwards has spent time in Rí Rá, in the basement of the Globe pub.
The original home of the Strictly Handbag dance night, the club has an almost legendary status amongst people of a certain age.
The planning application notes the proposed demolition of a “basement nightclub” and also mentions work on the “basement nightclub of the Globe”, but it gives the street address next door to the nightclub.
My memory is a bit hazy – it always was when it came to Rí Rá – but I seem to recall that the nightclub ran across the basement of both adjoining buildings.
Conlan backed the purchase of the Globe last year, presumably in anticipation of expanding the hotel.
The pub’s manager did not return several calls asking what the future holds for Rí Rá.
Could this really be the last dance?