Business Irish

Friday 22 August 2014

The big quota question: should women get special treatment?

Sarah McCabe

Published 08/03/2014 | 02:30

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Helen Mulholland
Mary O'Rourke, Former Government Minister and Leader of Seanad Éireann, Deirdre O'Shaughnessy, Editor of Cork Independent and Lucy Gaffney, Chairperson of Communicorp.
Sandra Hart

AS ANOTHER International Women's Day rolls around, new research says support for the use of quotas to boost female representation in senior management roles is falling.

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Just 18pc of listed Irish companies have a female member on their board, well below the European Commission's target of 40pc by 2020.

But just 31pc of Irish executives are in favour of mandatory gender quotas to change this, a study by Grant Thornton has found, down from 37pc last year.

Ireland's growing scepticism towards the concept runs counter to global trends – the EU average in favour of quotas rose to 41pc from 33pc during the same period, while globally it rose to 45pc.

We spoke to four working mothers about their views on the subject.

'THINGS ARE CHANGING NOW'

Derry-born mother-of-one Helen is master brewer for Bushmills.

"I'm the first Irish female whiskey blender in history; the vast majority, around the world, are male. Historically women just didn't do this job, and that's had a lasting effect. But it's changing. There are a huge amount of women coming up through the ranks now.

"I got a foothold at Bushmills through a student placement and worked my way up.

"I trained as a food technologist and have a master's in whiskey maturation. The job is all about sensory perception; it's hugely interesting.

"I'm against quotas. The most important consideration should always be whether you're the right person for the job."

'IT USED TO BE MALE-DOMINATED'

Slane resident Fiona, a mother of three, is quality manager at St James' Gate Brewery.

"I'm responsible for ensuring quality in all the products produced at St James's Gate – from Guinness to Tuborg – which means everything from checking the hops we use to monitoring the quality of our storage barrels. I have a degree in microbiology and started 17 years ago in the lab here.

"It was a very male-dominated environment in those days – of the 30 people in the lab, just three were female. Historically, brewing was all about men; when a woman working at a brewery got married, she had to leave her job. But that has really changed. It's a great place for women to work now, particularly if you have a family. Flexible working practices are promoted.

"I'm neither for or against quotas. I think the inherent value of having a gender-diverse workforce is probably enough to effect change."

'WOMEN ESSENTIAL IN SENIOR ROLES'

Mother-of-two Celine, from Portlaoise, is a self-employed architect.

"Architecture is definitely dominated by men. Only eight out of the 42 in my college class were women, and at the big firms I've worked at, the divide tends to be about 80:20. You do still get situations where men don't think you should be out at sites – they'll ask how you'll climb up ladders, that kind of thing. When I was younger I just laughed it off, but I'd take a different view now. Being my own boss makes things a lot easier. I started my business in 2004 and work from home, meaning I can be there for my kids when they need me. But I still call myself The Clown, because my life is a juggling act.

"I see both sides of the quota argument. It's important for Ireland's image that we have women in senior roles, especially in politics. But whoever is best should always get the job – male or female."

'QUOTAS ARE NOT THE ANSWER'

Mayo resident Sandra, a mother of two, is executive director of business networking organisation BNI Ireland South and West

"I have never had any problems in business as a result of my gender, but I do come across issues among our members. Women are often "pre-screened" from networking events – people will assume that, because a woman has children, she won't want to come to an all-day thing. It is happening a lot less frequently than it used to, though.

"Men and women also network very differently, which can cause problems for both. Women tend to focus on building a relationship first and then doing business, whereas men do the opposite.

"I don't think quotas are the answer to ensuring equal representation in business. I'd prefer to see more emphasis in schools on girls taking leadership roles and following careers in politics."

Irish Independent

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