Four Rich White Women Dish on Diversity

[Not
Them]

Last week, the ABC News Sunday news show This Week devoted a small segment to "Sex and Politics" (video here, transcript here). Discussants gathered by moderator Christiane Amanpour were Cécilia Attias (ex-wife of Nicolas Sarkozy), Torie Clarke (a vice-president at Comcast), and Claire Shipman (ABC News correspondent). In the wake of stories about ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner and ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Ms. Amanpour set the tone:

You'd be hard-pressed to find a sex scandal involving a female politician these days, which begs the question, what if there were more women in politics and in positions of power?
The first thing I noticed: despite Ms. Amanpour's advanced education, globe-trotting career, cosmopolitan lifestyle, and exotic accent, she doesn't know how to use the phrase "begs the question" correctly.

But I digress. The discussion was not contentious, all four women were in broad agreement with the prevailing opinion, which was: women good, men bad. Here's Torie Clarke:

In politics, in the public sector, often women are seen as more honest, more sincere, those - harder-working, all of which I think is true, so this may be an opportunity for more women to step into those positions.
And a lot of bloggers commented on this bit from Claire Shipman:
It's interesting, Christiane, because one woman I've really been watching is Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister, who may soon be the head of the IMF. And she has been talking about this for a number of years. She's been sounding the alarm about the perils of too much testosterone in a room. And it's true. What you find - there are half-a-dozen major studies that show the more women you have at a company, the more senior women, the more money it makes. There are studies - there was a recent study that was done from 2000 to 2009 about women hedge fund managers. They doubled the rate of success of their hedge funds compared to male-managed hedge funds. And they manage this way. They don't manage - the hedge funds don't go up and down. There's also an economist at the University of Michigan who has studied diversity and decision-making and has found that, in every business decision, diversity leads to better decisions. In other words, a group of all white men are not going to reach the best decisions.
A lot of bytes were expended on the obvious double standard. If it had been a bunch of guys sitting around the table, jawing about the natural superiority of males, the plug might have been pulled on them in mid-broadcast.

Here's the thing, though: Everything Ms. Shipman says is at least pretty much true.

  • Back in 2003, a study found that:
    … of the 20 companies with the highest market capitalisation in 2003, eighteen had at least one woman on the executive management team. Of the 20 companies with the lowest market capitalisation, only eight had a woman on the executive management team.

  • The late Roy Adler of Pepperdine University (and, yes, I've heard of Pepperdine) conducted a study that showed a "strong correlation between a strong record of promoting women into the executive suite and high profitability."

  • Ditto for the 2000-2009 study comparing men and women hedge fund management. According to Business Week reported: "Female managers produced average annual returns of 9%, versus 5.82% for men."

    (Granted, Ms. Shipman said that women "doubled" the men's performance. Not quite: more like 55% better. But, as Barbie pointed out, math is tough, so we'll give Ms. Shipman a break here.)

  • And the guy at the University of Michigan to which Ms. Shipman refers also really exists, and has purported to show real benefits of "diversity".

Now (for all I know) the research claiming to show the natural superiority of women in various business functions might be entirely correct. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. As Ann Althouse has tirelessly pointed out: "Remember it's okay to say one sex is superior to the other as long as you're saying women are better." No outrage was rained down upon any of the reports above, while… well, you remember what happened to Larry Summers. Blowing with the politically-correct wind has always been a pretty easy path for those both in Academia and out. You'd have to be hopelessly naïve to think this isn't reflected in the slant and content of the research that gets publicized.

But that's not to say it's false. Those studies might have been performed with the ultimate in statistical rigor. And, being a (wait a minute, let me check… yes, still there) man, I can see the inner truth in this self-flagellating column by David Weidner of MarketWatch:

We men just make bad decisions. We can't help it. We're men.
Weidner provides additional evidence of how this works out in the business arena.

But what strikes me as odd is how the "diversity" study is a sore thumb among those others. If women are better at things, that's an argument for letting women do those things, not for "diversity". Ms. Shipman appeared not to notice the self-contradiction in the evidence she rattled off. (But, to be fair, Barbie probably found logic class to be as tough as math.)

Look again at Ms. Shipman's summary of the UMich diversity-mongering prof's research:

… in every business decision, diversity leads to better decisions. In other words, a group of all white men are not going to reach the best decisions.
Indeed, the prof, Scott E. Page, waxes enthusiastic about "diversity" as it is barely-legally practiced in the modern University and elsewhere. But he kind of gives up the game in this New York Times interview:
Q. The term "diversity" has become a code word for inclusion of racial, ethnic and sexual minorities. Is that what you're talking about?

A. I mean differences in how people think. Two people can look quite different and think similarly.

And, as Page would probably prefer not to emphasize, two people can look quite similar and yet think differently. (For example: me and George Clooney.) You can get the benefits of "diversity" with a bunch of white guys. Ms. Shipman's paraphrase is tendentiously incorrect.

What Page seems to have "shown" isn't very revolutionary at all. Instead, it's an easy corollary based on the good old principle of comparative advantage as applied to business decision-making. Briefly put: if N participants in the process all think exactly alike, then exactly N-1 of them are superfluous. Much better if they bring different strengths to the table. Yeah, so?

But such is the nature of modern research: if you can leverage a trivial observation into servicing a correct political agenda, the New York Times will laud you as a "fresh voice".


Last Modified 2012-09-26 5:22 AM EST

True Grit

[4.0
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I'm of the opinion that the Coen brothers can do no wrong, movie-wise. (There are only Coen-brother movies that I, um, don't understand yet, like The Ladykillers.) And I like westerns, I think Jeff Bridges is pretty great. And I loved the original True Grit.

This is where you're expecting to see something like: "still, I was disappointed in the Coen brother's remake of True Grit." Not so, my friend. This is a very good movie.

It's the tale of 14-year-old Mattie, bent on a mission to track down Tom Cheney, the scurrilous murderer of her beloved dad. But he's teamed up with an outlaw gang led by "Lucky" Ned Pepper, and lit out for Injun Territory. Mattie's only hope is the often-drunk over-the-hill Sheriff Rooster Cogburn, who reluctantly agrees to a partnership. Also along for the ride is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, who's trying to find Cheney on an unrelated crime. The three don't get along well; Mattie doesn't like either of the lawmen much, and can't make up her mind which she likes less. Cogburn and LaBoeuf, for their part, are each continually trying to out-testosterone the other. Will they hold things together long enough to find and defeat Cheney and Pepper?

It's fun to compare casts: John Wayne → Jeff Bridges; Glen Campbell (!) → Matt Damon; Kim Darby → Hailee Steinfeld; Robert Duvall → Barry Pepper; Jeff Corey → Josh Brolin; and Strother Martin → Dakin Matthews. The new cast must have mused about the big shoes they were filling.

Well, maybe not Matt Damon. But Glen killed the theme song in the old movie, and I bet nobody asked Damon to even try.

It's been a long time since I saw that old movie, and a long time since I read the book on which both movies are based. Still, I was able to notice a number of differences between the versions; no clue on what the artistic impact was. The most important movie lines are (I'm pretty sure) exactly the same:

"I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man!"

"Fill your hand, you son-of-a-bitch!"

A glorious moment, then and now.

Book and movies all have the same wonderfully-stilted dialog. It's fun to listen to, and helps provide a musty atmosphere, but Mark Liberman, one of the balloon-puncturers at Language Log, indicates that it is not necessarily historically accurate.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 5:10 AM EST