No Image Available

John Bancroft

Indiana University School of Medicine

Professor of Psychiatry

Read more about John Bancroft

A radical new model for gender equality


In my recently published book, Tolerance of Uncertainty, I focused on the impact of both certainty and uncertainty in our lives.

Morality is obviously relevant; to what extent are our morals certain? A prime example is the subjugation of women.

The anthropological evidence suggests that in early human societies, usually referred to as “hunter-gatherers”, men and women had different but equally important roles. This changed with the advent of agriculture, and the consequences of property and wealth. Since then the subjugation of women has prevailed, lessening in some parts of the world, but always relevant to some extent. In general, the morality of this subjugation has been implicitly “certain”. Increasingly, however, there are some, like me, who are close to “certain” about its immorality. However, in my case, I am uncertain about the best way to deal with this.

In my book, I propose the use of “models of reality” when dealing with complexity which is beyond our comprehension, leaving us “uncertain”. We then use or follow such a ‘model’, aware that it might not be the best way, but open to evaluation and appropriate modification.

The principal example I gave of such a model is the two-team approach. I first presented this model in 2002 when I was Director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, at Indiana University. This lecture is still accessible on the Kinsey Institute web site.

The model is based on the principle that men and women are different. There are of course many similarities, and overlaps, but there are some important differences that should be embraced, because they complement each other. Both genders are advantageous to a social system, and the optimum solution is to give them equal importance.

What would this mean in practical terms? Society would be structured to have its male and female components, at all levels. The “two-team” approach would be the default position. Exceptions to that general rule would require a special case to be made, supported by law. But apart from these exceptions, the two-team approach would prevail at every level of social organization. Men would compete for male positions; women for female positions. At each level of seniority, in any such two-team hierarchical system, men and women would be paid the same.

In government, the same would apply; there would be a certain number of elected positions for men and the same number for women. In business and industry, the same would also apply. Bear in mind, that in most areas of work where the simply physical differences between men and women have been relevant in the past, they are increasingly less so, as technology and advanced equipment enter the scene.

In the case of the university, each academic department would have an equal number of male and female faculty positions. The committee structure would be equally divided. The teaching commitments would be equally divided; there would not be a disproportionately large amount of the undergraduate teaching carried out by female faculty, as seems to be the case in many universities today. In addition, there would be a separate and equal allocation of student places for men and women.

I would envisage competition between men and women, yes – but in terms of the comparison of output or achievements, not in terms of who gets the jobs or who makes the decisions. There will of course be some resulting issues requiring special attention. There is the issue of leadership. In the University world, leadership would be relatively simple, with departmental chairs rotating between male and female faculty. In most social structures, however, there will need to be one person at the top, be it President, CEO or chair. Would that be a man or woman?

Then there is reproduction. Getting pregnant, delivering the baby and breastfeeding for a healthy period is inevitably a woman's task. The system would need to be designed to incorporate that – but if women are competing with other women in the female team, and not competing with men, that would be less problematic than it is now. Reproduction will remain of fundamental importance; the challenge will be to enable women to use their many other skills in addition to having children.

Special provision for maternity leave and associated requirements would be fundamental. However, the care of children is not restricted to pregnancy, childbirth and lactation, and for the remainder of childcare, there will be no expectation that it is the responsibility of the woman – it will be the responsibility of parents, male and female, supported by a social system that gives child care facilities at the work place high priority.

An important point is that this would be a social system built on diversity. It would have as its foundation the assumption that there are at least two types of people, women and men, who are of equal importance in the world. This would foster the recognition and acceptance of other types of diversity, whether based on religion, race or sexual orientation; just the opposite of what we have now. The positive consequences of having women involved in political decision-making could be many. For example, it has been suggested by Potts & Hayden (2008) that this would reduce the likelihood of warfare.

Implementing this model, at a societal level, will not be easy. Initially, it may need to be limited to certain aspects of society; for example, in universities, where, in the U.K., there is already relevant activity promoted by the Athena Swan Charter, or in local government. In each case it will need to be carefully monitored, evaluated and modified accordingly. It may, for example, be initially difficult to get the same number of women as men to put themselves forward. The important first step, however, will be to get governmental acceptance of the underlying principle. It should remain at the forefront of political debate.          

But there is no place for “certainty”.

No Image Available
John Bancroft

Professor of Psychiatry

Read more from John Bancroft

Get the latest from HRZone.

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.