CEO Daddies Won’t Close the Gender Wage Gap

by cv harquail on March 8, 2011

The idea that CEO Daddies of Daughters will help us close the gender wage gap is completely misleading. This idea encourages us to buy into CEO Daddy “Feminism”, which is just another way to allow business men (and women) to avoid taking responsibility for gender equity in the workplace.

When solid but small bits of research get big buzz about nothing actionable, my inner curmudgeon comes out. Given the play that a recent study is getting, all about how having a daughter makes a male CEO deal with the gender wage gap, the curmudgeon must speak:

The unpublished working paper has been blogged, featured on Yahoo news, and discussed in the Wall Street Journal Review Section (the ‘thinking’ section of the WSJ), all because of this finding:


A new, not-yet-published study that tracked 12 years of wage data in Denmark finds that when male CEOs had daughters, their female employees’ wages went up 1.3 percent while their male employees only gained .8 percent raises.

So the birth of a daughter effectively shrunk the male-female wage gap by .5 percent on average. (emphasis mine)

And the takeaway is supposed to be this:

When a daughter is born to a CEO, the male-female wage gap at his company is reduced.

Ergo, having a daughter makes a man more likely to use his professional power to make the world of work a better place for women. Having a baby girl makes a CEO Daddy a Feminist.

Interesting spin, isn’t it? Let’s investigate.

Does having a baby girl really make a difference? A real difference?

Let’s look closely at the study itself.  The spin starts with the way that the finding is presented.  Although the finding is statistically significant, the size of the effect is small.

Said another way, the relationship between Daddy CEO having a Girl and reduction in the gender wage gap is not a function of chance.  And, it doesn’t make much of a real world difference.

On average, the decrease was .5%  (yes, half of one percent). In the best case scenario, in a small company (less than 50 employees) where the CEO’s first born child is a girl, the impact of her birth on that CEO Daddy’s actions towards women’s pay is very small — a decrease in the wage gap of 2.8%. In real dollars, this means that in a company where a man has been paid $100 and a woman has been paid $82, her wages would go up a whopping $2.80.

Post-daughter, post-CEO Feminist enlightenment, the woman makes only $15.20 less than the man who makes $100.

And, if we depend on CEO Daddys, it will take a long time to reach pay equity.201103081318.jpg To close an 18% wage gap, it would take a company 7 CEOs, (avg. CEO tenure 7 years), each with a first-born daughter, each improving the wage gap by 2.8% per CEO, a full 49 years.

The Research itself isn’t the Problem.

On the plus side, this research does demonstrate empirically that the change in attitudes towards women by new fathers of daughters, already documented in social psychological studies, is likely to exist in the business world as well.

The quality of the data set allowed the researchers to eliminate several kinds of statistical and research design-related challenges to any findings. The assumptions built into their empirical analysis are also quite conservative which increases our confidence that the effect is real.

And, the data are from the real world (not in the laboratory), demonstrating that the effect exists in business settings– in Denmark, anyway.

On the down side, the study offers us no actionable insight. There’s not much we can to to increase the number of daughters born to the female partners of male CEOs.

The Real Problem is the idea of CEO Daddy Feminism.

The real problem with the way this study has been ‘spun’. What’s been promoted is the idea that having a daughter leads a business man to be less sexist in his business decisions. Somehow,

— All we need to do is wait for powerful men to have daughters, and sexism at work will get fixed.

But that’s not true.

(Certainly some large portion of Fortune 500 (male) CEOs have daughters, but gender wage gaps exist in all of these firms.

George Bush had a first-born daughter. So did Rupert Murdoch. Has either man taken a leadership role for gender equity? No.)

This study is being sold to us so that we’ll believe in the idea of CEO Daddy “Feminism” — a special kind of paternalistic (dare I say, patriarchical) form of concern for women. Like the stealth discrimination promoted by so-called ‘benevolent sexism’, CEO Daddy Feminism discriminates more than it liberates.

CEO Daddy Feminism depends on him caring about “his” daughter — rather than asking him to care about everyone’s daughters.

CEO Daddy Feminism depends on him acting paternalistically towards someone beneath him — rather than asking him to address the discrimination that his wife, his sister, his mother, his colleagues, and his age peers have experienced and continue to experience.

CEO Daddy Feminism depends on him caring about someone he individually identifies with — rather than asking him to be empathic regarding all women.

CEO Daddy Feminism allows him to wait until he has little to lose — rather than asking him to examine his own privilege in the here and how.

CEO Daddy Feminism allows him to do only a little bit, for some gains in the long term, rather than to use his power to eliminate gender discrimination at work right now.

201103081315.jpgThe problem of focusing on CEO Daddy Feminism as a possible solution is that it suggests that it’s okay only to act on your own child’s behalf, and only in small increments that never really effect the CEO himself.

This is not to dismiss the role that having a daughter or a son, or a wife or a sister, or a mother or a grandmother can play in bringing a man to become aware of sexism.

Don’t read this as a dismissal of the enlightenment, empathy, and action that can come from a man (or woman) finally realizing how sexism and other injustices are hurting people he loves.

And, don’t read this as a dismissal of the role that a feminist awakening can play in leading any man (or woman) with power to start to use that power to create equity.

Instead, see it as making a larger point —

A really enlightened CEO – Daddy or not — would institute policies and programs to eliminate gender wage gaps altogether.

See Also:  Imagine She’s Your 12 Year Old Daughter by Marion Chapsal
Images from Flickr:
Dad holds the girl 2008-06-03 008
from hansgrim Subway Dad & Daughter from Kevin H. You are my hero!!! from Fabiana Zonca


Marielle March 9, 2011 at 10:29 am

Engaging and thought-provoking as always, CV. The first thing that came to mind when I read this was – wife who provided source of inspiration is what, chopped liver?

cv harquail March 9, 2011 at 10:45 am

Hi Marielle –
I have the same issue with the ‘absence’ of the male CEO’s wife/female partner in all of this! First of all, it’s the wife giving birth to the daughter– it’s not like the daughter just arrives to the Dad, but instead it’s a family-system dynamic. The other issue re: the male CEOs wife is that, presumably, the male CEO could look at her experience, care about her, and make changes to benefit her and women like her. I get that there are differences in the type of responsibility that we feel for our adult partners as compared to those we feel for our children, but I don’t understand why having an adult female partner doesn’t raise a male CEO’s level of awareness of sexism. Vexing. Thanks for your comment! cv

Lisa Gates March 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm

CV, when I saw this research and all the buzz I said to myself, “wonder what CV’s take on this will be.” A brilliant reframe, as always. And this points me back to our stake in the ground that while the rest of the population wags their own tails, we must wake up and take responsibility for ourselves. Inside out. As we women wake up and start creating and asking for our value in every area of our lives, we wake up those around us…like our CEO husbands to start. Simple physics.

Chris Shea March 12, 2011 at 11:53 am

One small point: The gap shrunk by .5 percentage points, not by “.05%,” which would truly be trivial. (So an unadjusted wage gap of 20 percentage points would drop to 19.5.)

And the authors say this understates things, because that 20% gap is the unadjusted one, not the “equal pay for equal work” gap.

cv harquail March 12, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Hi Chris-

Thanks for catching my typo — fixed now. I do think that a .5 point drop is rather close to trivial, when it’s all said and done.

When I read the paper, I did note (and mentioned above) that the authors were quite conservative in their assumptions. The folks in PR at a particular university? A little less ‘conservative’. The folks who wrote the press release, not the scholars themselves, are the source of the inflation of real-world significance. Thanks for the opportunity to make that clearer!


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