Women make up 50.8 percent of the US population, earn almost 60 percent of undergraduate degrees and 60 percent of all masters degrees, gain 47 percent of all law degrees and 48 percent of all medical degrees and account for 47 percent of the total US labor force.
Yet, women lag substantially behind men when it comes to leadership positions. For example, they are only 25 percent of executive- and senior-level officials and managers, hold only 20 percent of board seats and only 6 percent of CEO positions.
Women are clearly experiencing a leadership gap, which makes Dr. Jordan Peterson’s epic rant on why more women shouldn’t be in positions of power very surprising.
His reasons for why more women shouldn’t be in positions of power are counterintuitive and in my view deserve consideration. It caused me to reflect on my own value system, which I explain further at the end of the article.
NOTE: While some of Peterson’s views are contentious, it’s worth watching the video and reading the article to the end to get the full picture, especially of the reframing of the question. I welcome your feedback in the comments section.
Women’s increased rights haven’t so obviously been good for women
Peterson is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. His YouTube channel has over 500,000 subscribers and tens of millions of views.
He begins his rant by making the important point that when rights are extended to women, prosperity follows worldwide.
Yet what’s often overlooked is that women are less happy nowadays compared with the 1950s despite having these increased rights, claims Peterson.
One notable research study backs up his claim. It’s titled “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” and finds that despite having more opportunities than ever before, women today have a lower sense of well-being and life satisfaction. The study also said the same was true for women of different ages and whether or not they were married or had children.
Peterson says that women in the middle class or lower are the most severely affected. They often have to work very hard for low wages, and still have commitments at home with the family. Children are growing up in more challenging family environments, because both parents are working.
Women are struggling to figure out how to have a career and a family
Peterson also claims that numerous women are struggling to figure out how to have a career and a family at the same time. He provides anecdotal evidence from consulting law firms for a decade.
He says that he often heard the common complaint about women being denied access to positions of power, but this just wasn’t borne out in practice. Rather, he found that law firms simply couldn’t keep women in their 30s.
Why is this?
Peterson said that at the law firms he consulted with, there were numerous conscientious, intelligent and ambitious women. They nailed high school, did well at university and law school and sometimes made partner by the time they were 30.
Yet they discovered that to maintain this upward trajectory, they needed to work 80 hours a week. It becomes tragically clear just how difficult this is to do. It’s not just 80 hours of casual work, but highly stressful work from the time you wake up to when you go to sleep.
The relationship between money and happiness
At this point, Peterson explains the relationship between money and happiness. He says that once someone is making enough money to cover their basic needs, making more money doesn’t result in increased happiness.
He explains that once women have become partners in the law firms he consulted with, they’ll wisely conclude that working harder won’t increase their happiness. When they hit 30 they become much more aware of how important relationships and potentially marriage are to them and adopt a better work life balance.
Women worldwide prefer to marry up
According to Peterson, women prefer to “marry up” cross culturally. This is supported by research undertaken by David M. Buss in The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating.
In the case of the women working in the legal profession, Peterson that when they hit 30 they prefer to be with men who are older and whose earning power is higher than their own.
It’s common sense, and results in much greater happiness in the long run.
The insanity of a small number of men
Rather than ask why there aren’t more women in positions of power, Peterson says we need to reframe the question as follows: “why are there so many men in positions of power?”
It’s quite simply insane to work for 80 hours per week when making more money won’t make you happier. Therefore, what explains the motivation of so many men to occupy these positions?
According to Peterson, there’s a small percentage of “insane men” who will do nothing but work 80 hours per week under any conditions. It wouldn’t even matter if you put them in the middle of a forest and gave them an ax. They would chop down trees all day.
By focusing on why more women aren’t in positions of power, we’ve got the question backwards. Instead, we need to ask why there are so many men in these positions.
The reality is that running a billion dollar requires an incredible amount of work. Peterson says that when in these positions, you’re probably negotiating 200-300 lawsuits from rivals trying to cut you down, traveling to meet customers and suppliers, dealing with incredible complexity in monitoring the latest technological trends and regulating challenging internal company politics.
What kind of person wants the responsibility that comes with this power?
Women are right to focus on marriage and family
Peterson is effectively suggesting that women are right not to be occupying positions of power in modern day society, at least as society is currently structured.
It’s at this point that he really got me questioning my own value system. Why am I working so hard? What for? Do I want to create a billion-dollar company along with all of the responsibility that this brings? What’s the point of having career ambition?
While I don’t have a family right now, as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more aware of how important family is to me. I want to have a family one day, and I think that as I get older this is only going to become a more important value in my life.
Peterson’s anecdotal evidence from his time consulting law firms may not be representative across society. However, I think there’s a valuable insight being shared not just for women but for men as well.
He asks: What are you going to become between the ages of 40 and 80 when you don’t have a family? Will you keep climbing the corporate ladder? Run your own company? Peterson says the people that want this are extremely rare: “only 1 in 1000 of you.”
Peterson’s epic rant about women in positions of power has had a surprising impact on me personally. I realized that the question needs to be reframed, and it’s directly relevant to me: “why are so many men in positions of power?”
Perhaps the pursuit of power is what’s wrong with modern day society. And women have it right by not occupying the most powerful positions.
I realize there’s a lot more to discuss. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.