Sometimes, there are too many men. Or rather sometimes, there are too few women.
This was certainly the problem during the Gold Rush. According to California’s census in 1850, only 10,000 of the 120,000 inhabitants were women. That is indeed, 8% of the entire population. And interestingly, history has repeated itself; today’s San Francisco Bay Area also faces a shortage of women thanks to the Tech Industry. Numbers shows that women make only 30% of the workforce in Tech companies. However, despite the extreme lack of female population, there are many many highly successful women in these two environments. In both California’s gold Rush and Tech boom, it seems that the key to female success is to utilize the male dominated environment and the unique skills women have according to evolutionary psychology. Woman who sell their strengths as females, were the ones to succeed.
During the California Gold Rush in the late 1840s and 1850s, women did very well by performing tasks men were not good at or simply did not wish to do. One such task was cooking. According to JoAnn Levy’s book “They Saw the Elephant”, Luzena Wilson whom was traveling to California was able to sell biscuits she was cooking over a campfire for a 10 dollar (approximately worth $220 today) gold piece. “Aunt Maria”, a black slave freed in California, was able to earn a hundred dollars a week cooking for a household. The list doesn’t end here – Levy also describes a woman who earned above average wages by cooking three males a day, another who sold $180,000 worth of pies with 1/3 of it being her profit, one who sold milk from her cow for 1 dollar a pint, and so forth. According to Levy, with “little initiative and minimal equipment”, a women who could cook could make a living during the Gold Rush, sometimes earning even more than the average miner.
Many women in the gold rush also made a fortune by running boardinghouses and hostels. A boardinghouse ran by women may be especially appealing because people believed women were better housekeepers than men. As Mary Ballou, who kept a boardinghouse near a mine, describes, “sometimes I am washing and ironing sometimes I am making mince pie and Apple pie and squash pies…sometimes I am making gruel for the sick…”. Running a boardinghouse meant doing washing, cooking, making beds, cleaning, and so many other tasks that men were not prepared or equipped to do. So profitable was the hotel business that Luzon Wilson, for instance, was rich enough to open a store and lend money out to others through her hotel. When a fire at Nevada City reduced their wealth to nothing, Luzena and her family were still quickly able to regain their prosperity by opening another hotel.
Other than cooking and running boarding houses, women in the Gold Rush also earned money through selling tasks such as washing clothes, sewing, selling commodities, and so on. Again, these are all common domestic chores. According to evolutionary psychologists, women are inherently better at such tasks because such division of labour between sexes led to greater survival and reproductive success thousands of years ago. Men, with elevated testosterone, are naturally more competitive and risk-taking. In the ancestral environment, they were better suited for hunting and providing food for his family. Women on the other hand, become pregnant and produce milk. While the men were out forging food, it hence made sense for women to stay at house looking after the children and doing chores (e.g. growing food, making shelter, sewing clothes). This division of work – men hunting and women taking care of the family – proved to be more efficient in avoiding starvation and keeping the human species alive. Overtime with the genes passing down over generations, such arrangement of labor may be encoded in human genes, which enhanced the social roles of men and women. Thus from the perspective of evolutionary psychology, many women in the Gold Rush were successful in selling their services because men tend to detest doing domestic chores while women tend to better at preforming houseworks.
Women who used the male dominated environment as their advantage succeeded during the Gold Rush. In today’s Tech boom, women are succeeding for similar reasons. Studies show that women are also better than men in soft skills such as communicating, empathizing, and cooperating. Evolutionary psychologists believe this is due to the difference in brain types between sexes. Research from University of Cambridge found that people can have a brain either better at systemizing than empathizing (type S), or better at empathizing than systemizing (type E). According to Satoshi Kanazawa, men tend to have type S brains, while women tend to have the latter. This may be why there are more men in jobs requiring S brain, such as programming, and more women in jobs involving empathizing with others.
Contrary to its common image, the tech industry is not just about programming and technical skills. Tech companies need employees in divisions such as sales, management, and web or product designs. Since all of these require good team work, women who have E type brains may be best suited for these roles. In particular, women also make good leaders and managers. Dr. Ronald Bruke, a professor at Schulich School of Business, states that top companies are adopting leadership approaches consistent with female traits. A real life example isKim Malone Scott whom launched the highly successful AdSense at Google. In her book “Virtual Love”, readers are able to observe her logical, yet very empathetic and caring approach with her sales team, which ultimately leads her to success as a manager.
Beyond their empathetic characteristics, women bring different insights and ideas from men to the tech industry. Naturally, half of the users of technology products are women. Research also shows that women impact 85% of purchasing decisions, and have higher “purchasing intentions” than men for some electronic devices. It therefore stands to benefit tech firms to have more woman employees who can understand female users’ needs and demands. A woman web designer, for example, can create a website interface that is more appealing towards female users. Statistics show the value in this. According to a study by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, the share price of companies with at least one woman in the executive position did better by 26% compared to companies with no women. The study however, does points out that the positive results are not necessarily because of the individual woman’s performance, but because of the presence of women in the boardroom. It nonetheless shows that having a diverse team strengthens a company.
In both California’s Gold Rush and Tech boom, there are countless women who were extremely motivated and led themselves to success despite being surrounded by men. The secret here is women taking advantage of their distinctive qualities evolutionary psychologists claim they have. Since skills that women are perceived to be inherently good at – performing domestic chores, empathizing and understanding other women – are scarce in these male dominated environments, women who can utilize these qualities will be highly valuable and in turn highly successful. These two examples provide hope to all women that work in an environment saturated with men. Women have certain skills men do not have, and coupled her own unique qualities, the woman should become a precious member in her workforce. So the key to success, ladies, is not to be afraid of the testosterone-filled cloud, but to realize and grasp the silver lining.