Friday, February 18, 2005

Harvard, Summers, the Transcript; and Tangential Wanderings..

The transcript of the January 14 remarks by the president of Harvard University at the NBER Conference, are now available on the Harvard President's web pages. It is useful to also look at the two letters that he wrote - on women and science written 19 January at the start of the public hoopla and the letter to faculty written 17 February.

He does appear (to me) to dismiss socialization as a strong factor, but I think it is open to interpretation... one of those slippery things that might require one know him personally or had dealings with him to have a clue about intention and meaning (and that 93% to hear tone, see body language and all the other sensory impressions that give clues to meaning).

Personally I think no one factor is the cause, and no one factor will be the solution. The president of Harvard seemed to be saying biology is the bigger factor while also saying the commitment women are willing to give isn't the same. I don't agree, but the results aren't in and won't be for generations past me.

I do know that among the various factors is a societal attitude about individuals, families, communities and WORK that is still unhealthy for the whole. Women are still the primary caregivers of family and children and IF that is in large part nature (which hasn't been proven, but isn't as far fetched sounding to me as it was in the seventies) then something has to be adapted to allow for that. I also don't believe that most men prefer or would choose willingly, 80 hour plus weeks and careers that require them to be thinking about their work at all moments, leaving no time for family and socialization.

And this gets back to a point that others have made much better than I can. It IS NOT all fine and good for businesses to be only concerned with what will make the bottom line larger (or academia to only consider the number and amount of research grants, or the citations in journals which lend them prestige, and so on). Businesses operate within a society, a community, a political system and so on; and their impact on those is as much a part of the healthy or unhealthy long term continuation of the business as is the strictly monetary bottom line. The short term monetary success has little long term value if it destroys individuals and families in the process and devalues the potential contribution of women or men because they aren't willing to give up their other roles. Maybe quality of life and impact on the larger whole can't be measured exactly in monetary terms (which is a fond argument of some people from certain disciplines and has to do with an inability to come up with concrete and agreed upon quantifiable pieces and suggests a concept/view problem rather than a reason to ignore those elements), but if society unravels because individuals and families aren't valued over money, then businesses will fail as well.

It is more difficult to see and certainly to quantify things from a whole systems sort of perspective, but it is way past time for businesses to shift their frame of reference to be looking at their role within and how to improve the whole.


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