Over the past twenty-five years empowerment has been sold as something that is good; something when one hears the word, one should get warm fuzzies inside. But what exactly is it, and what has been its impact?
In the business world, the early 90’s was the golden age for empowerment. It was stated that the large corporate hierarchies of the time stifled innovation. Those who understood the true business situation (and opportunities) were not allowed to make decisions; this was reserved for management. It was thought that if only the people in the trenches could make their own decisions, then outcomes would be improved. And if these people were allowed to decide for themselves, then the corporation would prosper along with the newly empowered employees.
But can the people in the trenches make better decisions? They do not necessarily have better information, they have different information compared to management. Management has experience of what has worked before, as well as (hopefully) the larger picture. But which type is better? It depends on many factors. For example, is the field dynamic, with underlying assumptions changing relatively quickly? Another is the skill of the decision makers; have they had experience in making decisions and learning from their mistakes?
So how well did empowerment in the corporate world do? It was a mixed bag. It worked reasonably well in dynamic industries such as computers. In these industries, knowledge of imminent changes and their potential dominated. Established rules were a hinderance. One needs skilled people to make empowerment work, and fortunately many people of this type were attracted to such industries. In other cases (less dynamic industries), the corporate experience (both in the corporation and its individual managers) embodied in their managers was more effective.
Now consider the “industry” that female empowerment was applied toward. Mostly this “industry” is about female sexuality. The empowerment primarily consisted of breaking long established rules; ones that were created by the patriarchy. But was there any justification for this empowerment? Was the industry dynamic? Perhaps one might think that the answer is yes, but it is truly no. Human nature is the same as it ever was. The appearance of dynamism was due the continuous changing of the rules, not because of any underlying structural changes. Actually, there was one structural change, that of economic prosperity to underwrite the costs of these rule changes.
Back to empowerment. Is was sold to the corporate world as something that would benefit both the individual and the corporation; and it would do so through improved decision making. Has this happened with respect to women’s empowerment? Not particularly. Though they are just one example, the PPPs of New Zealand suggest what happens when women’s empowerment is taken to its logical conclusion (perhaps the PPPs are not done yet). Their short-sighted empowerment ignores the larger picture that used to be embodied in society’s rules. This application of empowerment effectively ruins them for life, for themselves, for potential families, and for society.
The bottom line of this management process change is definitely in the red.