Why So Slow

WHY SO SLOW: THE ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN is a thought-provoking, very scholarly look at a situation some might have assumed was corrected a long time ago—the attitudinal “glass ceiling” that impedes the progress of women. Virginia Valian presents data showing that women have not advanced as rapidly as might be expected, given their education, career performance, and other gender-neutral measures.

A professor of psychology and linguistics at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center in New York, Valian’s work is strongest and most thorough regarding the development of gender “schemas” in the family and in our culture, and regarding the progress of women in academia. The book offers far fewer insights about women in business, and deals only cursorily with some of the professions.

Chapters cover how notions about gender begin at home and become so deeply rooted that people react according to gender schemas, often without being consciously aware that they are doing so. Valian contends that women often undervalue their own work, because they have so thoroughly subscribed to these unfair schemas. Possible biological bases for differing performance by men and women are examined.

Methods of evaluating employee performance are discussed, including some surprising observations about how men and women interpret success and failure. Human values relating to gender, affirmative action, and legal non-discrimination requirements are briefly summarized. The final chapter on “Remedies” offers few novel ideas, but makes the valid point that being aware that gender bias still exists can be a step toward its elimination.

Valian’s statements are backed up by numerous published studies, which are presented in graphs and supplemented with end-notes, references, and helpful indexes. This is a good reference for graduate students or human resource professionals interested in gender bias, but WHY SO SLOW is probably more academic than the average business manager would prefer.