According to a new study, male CEOs are more likely to work to close the gender pay gap when they have daughters. The study, which is based on data from Danish companies collected between 1995 and 2006, found that the birth of a daughter to a male CEO is correlated with a slight closing of the wage gap at that CEO’s company. Denmark has a gender wage gap of 21.5% – not accounting for rank or hours worked. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that,
the birth of a daughter to a male CEO caused that gap to close, in his company, that same year, by 0.5 percentage points. Breaking the data down further, the birth of a first daughter caused the gap to close by 0.8 percentage points. If the first daughter was also a first child, the gap closed by 2.8 percentage points (representing 13% of the gap).
This is a fascinating finding, for several reasons. The first is that, in this case, it seems that the personal really is political. It appears that these men are having female children, and realizing that the world in which they will become women is one that treats women worse than it treats men. And because as CEOs, they have the power to do something about that, they do. The result is benefits not just their daughters, but a host of other women and girls. But, the study also found that women employees with college degrees are more likely to benefit from this change of heart and policy than are women without college degrees. “The authors of the study,” according to the WSJ, “speculated that this was because the CEOs imagined that this was the class their daughters would belong to.” So, score one for gender equality, but score none for class consciousness.
Secondly, these findings drive home the reality that if we want to achieve gender equality and equity in the workforce, we need to get men to commit to that goal. For the most part, the people with the power to change things are men. We need to get more women into positions of power, of course, so that they can work to make things more equitable for women across the board. But we also need men to cooperate. As this study shows, when men begin to understand why the wage gap matters and realize that they can help to close it, you can wipe out 13% of the wage gap, just like that.
To be fair, this data only applies to Denmark. It’s entirely likely that Danish culture constructs fatherhood and corporate leadership differently than American culture constructs them. Which means that the effect of having a daughter might be very different for an American CEO than it is for a Danish one. But I’m sure that this phenomenon exists in other countries, and I hope that there are more studies on it in the works, or planned for the future.