Musings from a graduation ceremony

My daughter graduated earlier this week and I did the proud father bit.  The ceremony was good – enough pomp but not too much, brisk enough to keep things moving but not rushing, and a nice musical interlude to freshen us up for further applause.

As the lines of gowns edged their way forward and then marched across the platform to be gently biffed on the head with the ceremonial hat, I looked down the lists of graduates by subject.  I could hardly have asked for a more striking confirmation of one component of the Paula Principle thesis:  the increasingly superior educational performance of women.  In all but one subject, they were not just ahead, but by a large margin. In Linguistics and English Language, it was 10/4;  in Psychology a whopping 64/14; and in Philosophy and English Literature 11/3.  In Philosophy and Politics (where I was clapping hard), 20/5.

The only subject where there was just about parity was straight Philosophy. I thought there might be a switch in Psychology and Business, but it was 8/1.  And at PhD level. across an impressive range of thesis topics, the score was 10/6.

At drinks afterwards I asked the tutors whether they were aware of this, and was it of any significance.  Their general response was to register the fact, but not to regard it as particularly noteworthy.  I couldn’t even get much of a response on why ‘straight’ Philosophy should be an exception.  I should say, before I give the wrong impression, that my daughter’s experience of the teaching and assessment was very positive, so this is not a veiled complaint about indifferent tutors.

The next day I talked to an MBA student who as part of her course is working with a website entrepreneur to launch a website focussing on gender pay (and career) gaps.  We discussed whether organisations are waking up to the commercial imperative of recruiting and retaining the best talent available.  It’s not clear that this is happening to any great extent (a recent pithy presentation by Andrew Leigh, an Australian MP, shows that the pay gap there  dropped over the last 20 years by just 1%, from 16.5 to 15.5%).  We both thought that the transparency forced in by GPG reporting will make a difference here.  But I am increasingly struck by the need to think beyond ‘closing the pay gap’ as if it were a matter of getting to zero;  the issue is surely a broader and more complex one of how we reward competences (qualifications, skills, experience), with the added complication of these competences being increasingly unequally distributed across the genders.

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