If I was a boy

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If I was a boy.

My brothers had it easy compared to my sister and me.

When my mother overlooked their indiscretions, I put it down to one being the eldest child and the other being the youngest. That was surely the only reason the boys had later curfews, lesser penalties and an altogether easier life than us girls.

My mother is no longer with us so I can't ask for confirmation. I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt, though reading a couple of articles this week made me revisit the notion that it's just a woman's lot to get fewer breaks than men.

I am, of course, aware of the gender pay gap, the testosterone/estrogen imbalance in board rooms and the sad reality women face retirement in a poorer financial position than male counterparts.

But these two articles confirm that the challenges for women run much, much deeper.

In the first, outgoing Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was reported as receiving a substantially reduced severance package as the board punished her for a series of company missteps, including hacking attacks in 2013 and 2014 where personal information from more than one billion Yahoo users was stolen.

To add insult to injury, the Board agreed to pay Mayer's replacement double her base salary.

This is not a classic victim story — Mayer will have earned more than $US300 million as Yahoo CEO and leaves with a $US23m severance package.

But she was due a $44m severance and it's a bit rich to hold her singularly accountable for hacking scandals that have hurt numerous companies managed by highly esteemed executives and directors — none of whom has been penalised as Mayer has.

Mayer was in many ways brought in to right a sinking ship. She was Yahoo's seventh (and only female) CEO and, according to a longtime tech-world observer: "The company was in chaotic shape. Her taking the job was a suicide mission."

A Georgetown University professor of business says Silicon Valley has a reputation as a predominantly white and male enclave with a bit of a double standard when it comes to women.

"Unfortunately Silicon Valley will not judge her as a risk-taker who failed but a woman who failed."

Like Silicon Valley, Wall Street still has a long way to go in closing the gap between men and women. A study released last week showed investment firms treat male employees very differently from female employees after they get in trouble.

While women are far less likely to engage in misconduct, they're punished much more harshly than men when they do.

Finance professors from the University of Minnesota and Stanford University analysed the misconduct records and employment patterns for 1.2 million US financial advisors over a decade.

Male financial advisers were three times more likely to have a record of engaging in serious misconduct, with more than 9 per cent crossing the line compared with 3 per cent of women advisers.

However after misconduct was recorded, female advisors were 20 per cent more likely to lose their jobs and 30 per cent less likely to find new jobs relative to male advisers.

It gets worse. Misconduct allegations against men cost firms 20 per cent more to settle (ie. they were more serious) than for women — and male advisers are twice as likely to be repeat offenders.

On the face of it, firms should punish male advisers more severely than female advisers.

But like my brothers, they seem to get away with everything.


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