Interview with Alison Wolf Age? Young as long as I learn and question what I have already learned. I am English. I decided to become a mother at 20 and that gave me a great advantage at 40 to dedicate myself to my career and now it gives me the opportunity to be a young grandmother. I collaborate with the Wengage gender equality programme at CaixaBank.

Alison Wolf is, by her own admission, pure British establishment, a member of the House of Lords and King's College and married to the influential editor of the Financial Times, Milton Wolf. She also recalls that she has earned it through hard work and in part thanks to her decision to become a mother much younger than other elite professionals, which allowed her to devote herself exclusively to teaching and research. The funny thing," she argues at The Aspen Institute Spain, "is that many professionals of my generation cut short promising careers by delaying motherhood until they were 40: 

Plan your career and become a mother in your 20s, not in your 40s, and you'll go further and higher!


You are in the House of Lords: what shall I call you Lord or Lady Wolf? 

If you call me lord, I would change my gender. And I'm also a teacher. I research gender inequality at King's College.

¿Why do more talented women have less power than less talented men?

In fact, girls are smarter on average, especially in their early years. Statistics show that girls are better at school from age 7 to 17 and even older the trend continues.

When do they catch up with the boys?

From the age of 18 to 22-23, boys and girls begin to perform equally well in their studies.

And in the workplace?

Women are in the majority and perform better in universities, including medical schools, and, as a result, among the new generations there is more and more balance in almost all areas and in companies. In business management, finance and services of all kinds.

Why did you say "almost"?

Because we are still a minority and less qualified in engineering and technical professions. And I am investigating in depth why.

Is there anything that predisposes women not to be engineers?

Let's see: women are more strategic. And, perhaps because of biology, or because it's expected in a patriarchal society, or whatever, most women plan to have a family. They want to be mothers and they plan how.

And that is incompatible with engineering?

It is less compatible than in other professions except for women who prioritize their work over their motherhood...

Equally respectable option.

Undoubtedly, but for now it is not a majority. Most professional women are looking for jobs that allow them to reconcile family life. And engineering today may require you to end up somewhere in the Arctic or in some remote factory.

Is that why there are so few girls among engineers in the very macho Silicon Valley?

Those macho tech guys are so proud of themselves! And for no reason, because computer science in its early days was a woman's job. There were programming pioneers like Stephanie Smith who only employed women.


Because she appreciated the untapped talent of many underemployed university students, and she and other entrepreneurs turned them into the best computer programmers.

So why is today's platform economy controlled by men?

Again because of the engineering paradox. Women may be excellent engineers, but, except for a minority, they do not want to have to give up planning their motherhood.

No techno-entrepreneur moms?

Environments such as Silicon Valley or start-ups are too volatile and unpredictable for those who are planning their future as a mother.

And the alpha technomales, on the other hand, can concentrate on founding googles?

Indeed, men are more willing to take risks, because when they think of the future they only think of themselves.

Would that explain why women are not in key positions in companies?

They are coming. But they start with the ones that allow you to implement your maternity planning. And they are not minor professions, nor are they less powerful. From medicine to banking: nothing prevents the best prepared from reaching the top.

And in the professions of total dedication?

I'm afraid that in that kind of jobs only women who give up that maternal planning can make it to the top. That's why there will always be more men than women in them, as in those oil engineering jobs in the Arctic.

And in politics?

I am also afraid that in countries where politics consists of a daily bitter battle between parties and is very confrontational...

Just like ours.

...It will be difficult for women to reach parity, although in Scandinavia it may be achieved sooner, precisely because there is less stress in the system and you can reconcile it with being a mother.

Maybe the ladies are too smart to engage in that kind of politics.

In any country there will always be very competitive women who will give up everything for their profession, of course. And there will be more and more men willing to assume that their wives will take precedence in their careers over them. But if we as countries are not competitive in the world, we will all be impoverished. And our low fertility already hampers our competitiveness.

Here we are fewer and older every day.

We are doing it wrong, because in the surveys young people want to have 2 or 3 children, but in the statistics after ten years they end up having 1.4 or 1.5. There are tremendous barriers to fatherhood and motherhood: for starters, wages are shrinking while the price of downtown rents are rising.

What is your advice as a researcher?

Professionals should plan their careers so that they will be able to have children earlier in their 20's. Then they will be able to enjoy more opportunities and reach further and higher in their careers.

Now they delay motherhood until they are 40.

And that's a mistake. If they decide to become mothers at 20, then they have 30 years of career to work hard and reach the top.


* Original publication by Lluis Amiguet in La Vanguardia: