Division of labour

I’ve recently been doing a gender course at work. I don’t think it’s because I have been singled out as having gender issues. Perhaps it was just that when people were being nominated, my name was an easy one to say. (I don’t think Lleieusszuieusszesszes Willihiminizisteizzi Hurrizzissteizzi ever had that problem.)

After hearing all about someone else’s view of gender issues, it’s really solidified my own view.  I hope I can explain it clearly here. Now, I haven’t experimentally verified this, but it is a testable hypothesis, and seems anecdotally true.

Of all the various personal characteristics, there are those that are directly related to reproduction, and all the rest. For those not related to reproduction (such as height, empathy, strength, ability to multi-task, focus, risk-taking — you get the idea) the characteristics are normally distributed for both genders. This is shown in the following diagram:

The difference between the genders is less than the difference within the genders
The difference between the genders is less than the difference within the genders

The diagram shows how for any particular (non reproduction-based) characteristic, the degree to which it appears in any gender is normally distributed across the population. The conclusion here is that the difference between the genders (as represented by the difference between the average degree of that characteristic for each gender) is less than the difference within a gender (as represented by the spread of degree of that characteristic within any particular gender).

So, treating people in the workplace (or, really any place) as if characteristics that they hold fall anywhere along the spectrum covered by both genders is a good way to ensure that you cover any particular gender well. Certainly, it’s a better approach than relying on characteristics to fall close to the average for a particular gender. In other words, and from the perspective of the male-dominated industry that I’m in, trying to accommodate both men and women is also a good way to ensure that you accommodate a broad spectrum of men.

Support Pink Ribbon Day, but don’t forget the men

This coming Monday (22nd October) is Pink Ribbon Day. As everyone would know, it is supporting breast cancer research, which is a good thing. People (ok, women) at my train station sell ribbons for this charity, but I’ve never seen anything at all comparable for any cancer associated with men. Now, I know that there are a small fraction of men who do suffer from breast cancer, but in the main, research and support for “female cancers” like cancer of the breast, cervix, ovary or uterus are discussed and promoted significantly more than for “male cancers” like cancer of the prostate or testis.

In the past, I’d just assumed that this was because these afflictions in women outnumbered the cases in men, and the attention on them was warranted because it was another case of women simply being shafted for being female. Men seem to get things easy, and all these cancers were the universe picking on women again, just like while Viagra was approved quickly in Australia, RU-486 isn’t really available anywhere, or like GST on tampons. However, in this case, the roll of the dice has favoured the women, and it is men whom the universe has picked on. Cases of some male cancers outnumber the females ones. By quite a bit.

Cancer statistics are tracked in a lot of detail in Australia. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare publishes a mountain of stats on cancer, although some stats are available up to only 2003 so far. So, in 2003, while there were 11,889 instances of breast cancer detected, and 2,720 deaths from it, there were 13,526 instances of prostate cancer found, with 2,837 deaths. Not that this is a competition, but instances of prostate cancer were 14% higher than for breast cancer. Why aren’t there guys at my train station selling ribbons for that? The Prostate Cancer Foundation should get a move on.

However, when all of the cases of “female cancers” listed above are totalled-up, they do outnumber the “male cancers”. Specifically, in that year, there were 14,164 instances and 2,854 deaths from “male cancers” and 15,311 instance and 3,956 deaths from “female cancers”. That’s almost 40% more deaths on the women’s team. So, there is a strong case to be made for emphasising “women’s issues” (particular for ovarian cancer, which looks pretty lethal from the stats). However, other types of cancer than breast cancer do need a look-in occasionally!