Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Come for the Politics, Stay for the Charts

One day after Hillary Rodham Clinton can finally declare that she is the Democratic party's nominee for President of the United States of America, what many have defined as breaking through one of the last remaining "glass ceilings" keeping women from attaining the highest positions in government and business, The Wall Street Journal ran this article on its front page, basically declaring the entire event as NBD, "no big deal."

For those of you without access behind the pay wall, the headline and sub-header read as follows:

"Hillary Clinton’s Historic Moment Divides Generations of Women

Presidential candidacy reflects hard-fought gains in gender equality so widespread that some women see little urgency in crashing another barrier"

Personally, I don't know who those "some women" are. Based on my Facebook feed and Twitter timeline, I saw a lot of women (and men!) who were incredibly moved by the moment, many watching the unfolding events with tears in their eyes, bringing their children to the television to see history being made. But I can admit that there might be some women out there who don't see it as that momentous. That proves to me that what we've been saying to women and girls in generations younger than mine, that you really can do anything, has worked. They already believe it, and that's great. I know my own daughter believed it too, until she was maybe 10, and then she stopped feeling so sure about that sentiment. I've seen that change in her in recent years, where the lofty aspirations she had as a kid became tempered by the reality of the world around her.

But what I came here to write about after a long work day and a frustrating commute was the supposed evidence provided in the WSJ article to substantiate that women ascending to higher positions is just so commonplace as to be unremarkable now, and the charts that they used to show the data. The text is inane too, but I'm going to focus on the charts.

Now, I design charts as part of my professional career. A good chart can tell a story more effectively than all of the text around it, and I pride myself on being able to do that well. Before those charts can be shown outside of our firm, to clients and prospects, they must be cleared through our Legal department. We have to cite our sources, show our calculations, and most of all, make certain that the charts are presented in an accurate and straight forward manner. Nothing can be cherry-picked or misleading in any way.

And there is simply no way that the WSJ charts accompanying this article would have passed muster with our Legal department. Frankly, for a paper that purports to have a higher education level among its readership, this is just embarrassing. Screw the paywall, I took some screenshots for you.

The chart above shows what looks like a meteoric rise in women elected to Congress since Clinton was born in 1947. The timing of her birth is awfully coincidental, as it doesn't look like there might have been any females in Congress prior to that time, or very few. Now there are 84 in the House. OUT OF 433. 19%. On the Senate side, just 20 women out of 100 serve today. The way the scale of this chart has its maximum set at 120 makes it look like women's involvement has hit the highest possible peak, but had the scale shown that maximum number (435, according to a law set forth in 1911), women's progression would be a lot less impressive. (And I'm still so impressed by those 104 women - watching the women of the House speak at the DNC was very inspiring!)

And then there was more. Four more charts that again were poorly made and misleading. In the Education chart, I'm not sure how 0.4% more women who completed fours years of college or more is *that* much progress, especially when the trajectory shown is very similar to that of men. The Money chart is again missing a top range showing the fact that men earn 100% (it's implied, but if it's on a chart, it's misleading to leave it off). As for the Politics chart, I had no idea how many people are working for state legislatures, and I consider myself not that ill-informed, but it took only a few clicks to discover that women are only 24.5% of legislators nationwide, so again, we're missing an upper bound on that chart. But my favorite chart by far is the Business chart, showing that since 1995, over the last 20 largely progressive years, a whopping 24 women are CEOs at Fortune 500 companies. You can do the math on the missing upper limit of that chart, right? That's 476 males still in significant power, but the chart looks like women's involvement at that level took off like a rocket ship.

So you're not that impressed with Hillary's accomplishments, up to and including nomination to the Presidency? I hope your reasoning is a lot more sound than the "women accomplish stuff all the time!" ridiculousness of these charts. And while I'm certain there are charts existing that tell stories I *do* like in misleading ways, I hope this post makes us all slow down a bit and evaluate things more carefully. Think about the scale, and think about what's not being shown.

And if you're a woman? Maybe think about finishing college, going after that higher paying job, or even running for office. We've clearly got a lot more work to do.

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