Project 10^100: a missed opportunity for girls and women

Well, Google’s long-delayed Project 10^100 has finally come to the voting stage. And all of the 16 bundles of ideas that have made it to this stage are worthwhile endeavors.

But they’re also a missed opportunity. None of the ideas is about empowering girls and women. In fact, the word “women” is entirely missing from the page that describes the 16 finalists.

Yet, economists have proved again and again that getting girls into education, teaching women about their reproductive rights, financing women’s ventures, and setting up services that allow women to be productive in the workplace is the hidden lever to unlocking growth and prosperity. None of the 16 ideas up there on that page recognizes this. (Sure, many women will benefit if voters choose to fund better technologies to remove landmines, or more education for African students, or early warning systems to prevent mass atrocities – including war rapes. But there is no idea up there that says  “let’s spend this money 100% on women”).

My proposal? Together with my friend Raffaele, I had submitted an idea about women’s leadership and role models. It went like this: The 1,000 member companies of the World Economic Forum would commit to having neither gender represented by more than 60% of Directors on their Board. Sure, it would primarily have impacted the West, and not so much of the developing world. But it was a very low-cost idea – all it takes is leadership, commitment and some monitoring systems – and it would have triggered a vast culture change in our business, political and civic organizations. Culture change will come anyway, you say? It doesn’t: we’ve stopped making any measurable progress at all – except for places with forcing devices, such as Norway. It didn’t fly: let me know if you find a better forum to promote it.

In the menatime, how are you voting on Project 10^100?

Where women in the workplace get treated differently: if this isn’t evidence, I don’t know what is

This week, the OECD report Education at a Glance 2009 earned a lot of well-deserved media attention (you can download it here). Of particular interest, as The Economist points out, the finding that, even as higher education becomes more widespread, it does not lose value:

“Every year we wonder if this will be the year that higher education starts to lose its value—and every year, there is no sign of it happening,” says Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s chief of education research.

Much has been made of the OECD’s measure of incremental lifetime earnings from tertiary education: across the countries surveyed, gross earnings benefits average out at $186,000 for men (in 2005 money, at purchasing power parity) and $134,000 for women. Even once you subtract the direct cost of the education and the opportunity cost in terms of wages not earned while studying, and make numerous other adjustments, the net present value of the benefits to the individual is still largely positive. National economies as well as the public coffers also come out ahead when their citizens get more education (a hot topic in times of shrinking education budgets).

You will have noticed that the OECD averages show that the individual or private gross benefit for men is 39% higher than for women. This is politely attributed to “the disparity in most countries between male and female earnings”. But how big is this disparity, education levels being equal – and what does it tell us about OECD countries?

You are welcome to look for yourself at the figures in Table A8.2 (as well as all the other tables helpfully provided), but I’ve run the numbers for you here:

Ratio of gross incremental male earnings to gross incremental female earnings from tertiary education, selected OECD countries
(100 %= men and women have the same incremental earnings from tertiary education)

  • Italy: 236%
  • Hungary: 182%
  • Poland: 177%
  • Czech Republic: 172%
  • Sweden: 163%
  • Average: 139%
  • Norway: 111%
  • Australia: 110%
  • Turkey: 102%
  • Spain: 95%
  • Korea: 77%

In other words: it always pays off to get a degree. It pays off for everybody, men and women. In a country like Turkey or Spain, it pays off to the tune of about the same incremental earnings for men and women. In the OECD as a whole, it pays off for men about 1.4 times as much as for women. But in Italy, a university degree pays off 2.36 times as much for men as for women.

Where is our Minister for Equal Opportunity? and what does she have to say about the equality of opportunities shown in these numbers?


Top 7 signs you no longer work at a high-tech company

  1. The demographics of the place more closely reflect the outside world. You feel young again. Unfortunately, it is advisable to adopt a more conservative dress code.
  2. There is no WiFi in the building.
  3. You are issued a Blackberry in an older version than the one you had before.
  4. You are issued a large and sturdy laptop that is heavier than the one you had before. I mean, a couple of pounds heavier. That’s a lot heavier, for something you want to take home at the end of the day.
  5. Your laptop carries an operating system and applications in the local language, and there is no way to get them in English. You have to relearn most of your keyboard shortcuts. CTRL+p? forget about it, now it’s CTRL+SHIFT+F12. CTRL+s? it’s become SHIFT+F12. CTRL+f? start getting used to CTRL+SHIFT+t. CTRL+a? You still haven’t figured out where that one has gone. You fear serious losses in your productivity.
  6. They don’t use Skype. In fact, Skype is blocked. They don’t use any other instant messaging application, actually. When they need to chat, they write emails back and forth to each other. You fear even more serious losses in your productivity. You ask for an exception to the Skype block.
  7. Every morning, a thick bundle of newspapers is delivered to your desk. Some Web-only dailies are printed out and delivered to your desk. Little by little, one piece at a time, you start trying to stop the madness.
  8. [Bonus] You wrap up a meeting with a colleague. You say “OK, I’ll send you a list of those items in a spreadsheet or something.” He says “That’s OK. As long as you don’t send me an Excel. I don’t do Excel.”