Quotas… what they really mean.

Hi lovely feminausts out there in cyber land. Yesterday I had the pleasure of hearing some wonderful women speak about women’s leadership in Australia. Particularly young women’s leadership. One of the speakers, a female, Liberal state politician (narrowing down the possibilities here aren’t I?) brought up the subject of quotas and how against them she was. She said that when she was running for preselection she had been up against 10 men and when she was successful she wanted to know that it was because she was the best person for the job, not because she was a woman. She proudly announced that instead of quotas we should be investigating why women weren’t wanting to enter into leadership roles, particularly politics. Even when questioned about the role of entrenched prejudices in preventing women from gaining higher positions of power, she insisted that changing the rules of appointment was not the answer, only find out why women didn’t want to jobs would fix the problem in her mind. Which, other than entirely ignoring the question, also entirely misses the point. Women DO want these jobs. They DO want to be appointed to boards and promoted to management and partner and whatever else. Women who have made decisions not to have families for their careers or whose families have grown up and moved on, continue to face prejudice and hostility in the workplace and while changing the culture of the environment will be a positive move (for women and men) it won’t change the current recruiting and appointing mechanisms which have resulted in only 8.5% of ASX100 board positions being held by women.

SO, at feminaust, we’re taking up the challenge and coming up with a 10 point explanation of why quotas are a good idea, for those of you out there that don’t agree or aren’t sure, to read and ponder and digest.

1. Quotas work. In countries and in organisations which use a quota system (for women’s participation, youth participation and ethnic diversity among others) the successes are clear and undeniable.

2. Quotas to not result in “appointments based on gender not on merit”. NO organisation, corporation or agency is ever going to start appointing the wrong people, just because they have a quota requirement. That’s just bad business. Instead quotas result in greater creativity and a critical analysis of the processes of advertising, recruitment, interviewing and decision making.

3. Entrenched prejudice is quiet, unaccountable and often invisible. Human beings are naturally drawn to what they know and understand. This is why racism is such a difficult problem to tackle, it’s just a natural tendency to feel affinity with something that is familiar and comfortable. As such, while boards and management structures remain male dominated, they will remain male dominated. This doesn’t mean that all men are evil, sexist, misogynists (although some of them are), it means that they are more likely to trust and feel affinity with another man, than a woman and this results in appointments based on gender not merit.

4.  Biological determinism is a commonly accepted fallacy. Many people think that women are just not designed to take on management and governance roles because of inherent characteristics which make them better at empathising and multi-tasking and not as good at systemising and decision making. These theories are often supported anecdotally by the small number of women in positions of leadership who display “male” characteristics of dominance and don’t champion “women’s issues”. The only way to demonstrate that biological determinism is bollocks is by having an appropriate 50/50 split in all positions thus allowing for all types of characteristics in both men and women to be displayed at the top.

5. Reality is better than appearance. If there is a quota system at your workplace and you are promoted (assuming you’re a woman) your colleagues may well think it was because of the quota, not because of your skills. HOWEVER, the people who really matter, your managers and organisational governance will NOT think that, because it will have been them that made the decision. Refer to point 2 for further clarification.

6. Women want these positions. Not all women do, but more than the 8.5% of current ASX100 board directors who are female, do. If someone tells you that the reason why this statistic exists is because women don’t really want to apply for roles of responsibility, they’re either ignorant or lying.

7. Quota systems should work both ways. In Norway, the quota system says that 40% of all board positions should be of either gender. This requires that between 40% and 60% of board directors to be either male or female. It is entirely appropriate and in fact, essential that we don’t see the balance slip the other way. Quotas are about fairness and equity, seeing female representation on publicly listed companies far outweigh male participation would be as damaging as the current situation (although quite amusing).

8. Quotas = positive discrimination. Positive discrimination is a policy of favouring or assisting one group/demographic of people over another because of historic disadvantages that this group has experienced. In this case it’s gender, in other cases it might be age, ethnicity, sexuality or disability. Positive discrimination aims to rectify age old practices which currently discriminate against a person based on their gender/ethnicity/age/disability/sexuality. This is not unfair towards the other group (in this case men), it is simply rectifying and attempting to neutralise current, prevalent and ongoing inequities that exist (eg: are not fictitious).

9. “Merit” is sometimes an intangible thing. The MLC who aggressively attacked the idea of quotas yesterday cited her experience of preselection against 10 men as her reason for not supporting quotas. Saying that if there had been an quota system she would have felt an empty victory. However I would argue that in a situation where 10 men and one woman are competing for a position, being the woman would be an advantage as a point of difference. As such, people who argue the merit not numbers line are not always appreciating the subtleties of “merit” and the human experience.

10. Women make up half the population (well actually more than half but only just) and as a result should have half the jobs, half the board positions, half the debt, half the income, half the superannuation, half the caring responsibilities, half the prison sentences etc etc. But they don’t. As a community we should be aiming to make dramatic and lasting changes which rectify this inequity and quotas is just one of the tools we have at our disposal to do just that.

Thank you for taking part in this journey. Obviously not everyone will agree with what I’ve said and some people would choose a different 10 points in support or disent of quotas. I encourage and look forward to your comments.

Thank you to Nicholson Cartoons for the image above

5 thoughts on “Quotas… what they really mean.

  1. Greetings I stumbled upon your webpage by mistake when i searched Live search for this topic, I have to express your page is totally useful I also really like the layout, it is great!

    • Thanks Norris, we’re working hard to make it as user friendly and interesting as possible. If you live in Melbourne we are having our official launch on the 15th of June at Loop in Melbourne City. RSVP to info@feminaust.org and bring friends!

  2. Pingback: Maybe we should ‘get over it’? | Redefining the Narrative

  3. Pingback: Welcome to Monday! ~ 15th December 2014 | feminaust ~ for australian feminism

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