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An appearance at a House of Commons inquiry

November 21, 2012

Yesterday I gave evidence to a House of Commons inquiry into ‘Women in the Workplace’, in a panel along with Catherine Hakim (sociologist), Heather McGregor (businesswoman and a committee member of the 30% club), and Steve Moxon (researcher and author).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwqTi6HN0pM

The session started off in a curious manner, with the chairman, a Labour MP, asking me the following question:

You mentioned in your submission that men are more likely to become engineers and women are more likely to become nurses. Why do you think that is?

I wasn’t prepared for a question along these lines, partly because an email from a clerk to the committee stated that ‘witnesses’ would be given prior warning of ‘possible lines of questioning’, and this hadn’t been mooted. My personal belief is that gender-typical differences are mainly biological in origin – drawing on books by eminent psychology professors including Louann Brizendine’s The Female Brain and The Male Brain, Simon Baron-Cohen’s The Essential Difference and Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate – so I outlined that position. With the benefit of hindsight, I suspect the question was intended to lead me to talk about biologically-based gender differences, because the viewpoint is hotly disputed, and thereby harm my credibility as a witness. You live and learn.

A belief in gender-typical differences isn’t universally held by supporters of C4MB, and one of our most prominent supporters fundamentally disagrees with it. I should have pointed that out, and also said that the source of gender-typical preferences is irrelevant to this campaign. In the meantime, in an effort to keep an open mind on the matter, I shall be reading material written by a number of researchers who dispute the existence of biologically-based gender-typical differences which are of importance in relation to the world of work. Let it never be said that C4MB isn’t open to alternative viewpoints.

I should perhaps have replied to the question by saying that there are a number of theories concerning the source of gender-typical preferences, but in a sense they’re irrelevant, because governments simply shouldn’t be in the business of seeking to change individual preferences.

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