Saturday 1 October 2016

It's time we had empowered women giving out the orders

Barbara Scully

Published 24/10/2015 | 02:30

Halla Tomasdottir
Halla Tomasdottir

THIS weekend 40 years ago, the women of Iceland took a day off. Almost all of them. An incredible 90pc of the women of Iceland downed tools and walked off their jobs, be they in industry or in the home. Some 25,000 of them attended a rally in Reykjavik - a huge number, considering the population of Iceland was in the region of 220,000 at the time.

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Men had to take their children to work, some workplaces remained closed. Essentially, the country ground to a halt and suddenly all the work that women do - in the workplace and in the home - became very visible.

Four years later, Iceland voted in the first democratically elected women head of state in the world. And today Iceland is generally considered one of the more gender-balanced countries in the world.

In the last few weeks, we have had the increasing speculation about the forthcoming General Election here and the first one on which gender quotas have been imposed.

Some weeks ago, two high-profile current-affairs programmes turned their attention to the issues of gender balance.

One programme on radio debated the question "do we actually need the Dáil to be 50pc women?" and the other programme on TV asked: "Are gender quotas democratic?" Seriously, lads?

Needless to say, the presenters of both programmes were men!

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to be at an event at which Halla Tomasdottir spoke about why we need more women on boards.

Halla is an Icelandic business woman who is passionate about using what she calls "feminine values" in business. Her company, Audur Capital, was one of the few financial institutions to survive the crash in Iceland.

She now runs a company called Sisters Capital and attributes the success of both to the incorporation of these feminine values. Values such as risk-awareness and straight talking using clear language and honesty. Values such as emotional capital because she says: "It's people who make and lose money, not Excel spreadsheets."

Halla also talks about profit with principles - a wider definition of profit - "profit plus benefits". She says that lack of diversity and sameness on boards leads to disastrous problems.

Research confirms that Halla is right; having more gender balance at board level makes companies perform better. So if this has been proven true for private sector companies, I have no doubt that it is true also of Governments. More women in Cabinet would surely mean a better-run country and a country with a reordered set of priorities.

A recent TV3 'People's Debate' from west Dublin illustrated very starkly just how unfair the austerity programme pursued by the Government has been. Our so-called 'economic recovery' has been created on the shoulders of children with special needs, lone parents and the new homeless.

There are currently 1,500 children without a place to call home in Ireland, which is an appalling indictment of government policies.

And yes, I know that the Minister for Social Protection is a woman but that fact proves that we don't need a few women, we need half our Cabinet and half the Dáil to be women.

Of course we are very unlikely to come anywhere near gender balance this time out. In fact, gender quotas only provide for our ballot papers having a guaranteed 30pc of men or women available for us to vote for.

But 30pc is important because it is critical mass. It is the tipping point at which women's voices will be heard and they will have a definite impact on the board or in Cabinet. Therefore for the sake of Ireland, we should all ensure we make a concerted effort to get more women elected at the forthcoming general election.

Okay, I can hear the muttering of the usual knee-jerk response to this idea. And it's not just the men who are muttering: "I am not electing a woman just because she is a woman. I will elect the best person for the job."

So after decades of electing mediocre men we should now insist that women be brilliant before we consider giving them a vote? This is the same old story of women having to be twice as good as the men before they get the job. What utter nonsense.

The fact that women are not represented proportionally at the table where the laws are passed that affect our lives is madness.

It really is time to make a massive leap forward and the general election will provide us with the opportunity to do just that.

As US Senator Elizabeth Warren, said "if you don't have a seat at the table, you are probably on the menu."

But it seems that the men and some of the women still need convincing.

Fancy a day off, sisters?

Irish Independent

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