Shirky’s Rant about Women

Okay, so I’m vacillating between “Duh” and “Hmmmm” regarding Clay Shirky‘s recent blog post “A Rant About Women” … but I think there’s enough in there that educators should at least ponder …

Some of the most important opportunities we have are in two-sided markets: education and employment, contracts and loans, grants and prizes. And the institutions that offer these opportunities operate in an environment where accurate information is hard to come by. One of their main sources of judgment is asking the candidate directly: Tell us why we should admit you. Tell us why we should hire you. Tell us why we should give you a grant. Tell us why we should promote you.

In these circumstances, people who don’t raise their hands don’t get called on, and people who raise their hands timidly get called on less. Some of this is because assertive people get noticed more easily, but some of it is because raising your hand is itself a high-cost signal that you are willing to risk public failure in order to try something.

So we need to encourage women to raise their hands and put themselves out there – even if it’s not in their nature. But, then Shirky states:

That in turn correlates with many of the skills the candidate will need to actually do the work — to recruit colleagues and raise money, to motivate participants and convince skeptics, to persevere in the face of both obstacles and ridicule. Institutions assessing the fitness of candidates, in other words, often select self-promoters because self-promotion is tied to other characteristics needed for success.

So if it’s not in their nature – simply “behaving” in an aggressive manner might get them the job, but will they be successful in the work? My daughter is a young musician and artist … and incredibly reluctant to self-promote fearing that she’ll be seen as pompous or bragging. How can her teachers and mentors coach her to balance that line between humility and overblown self-aggrandizement?

(Of course, as her mother, I am completely at liberty to engage in shameless bragging:

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