Saturday 17 August 2019

Quotas are a divisive tool - but in the short term they can break a cycle

Advancing women’s equality can add $12trn to global GDP by 2025, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, while Goldman Sachs calculates that closing the gap between female and male employment rates would boost eurozone GDP by as much as 13pc. Stock photo: PA
Advancing women’s equality can add $12trn to global GDP by 2025, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, while Goldman Sachs calculates that closing the gap between female and male employment rates would boost eurozone GDP by as much as 13pc. Stock photo: PA
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

Many women are conflicted on the issue of gender quotas. Believe me, I'm one of them.

In principle, gender quotas are wrong and at odds with the notion that women and men, regardless of age, creed, gender or orientation, should be treated equally and get ahead solely on merit.

Women, in the main, hate playing - and hate being perceived to be playing - the so-called 'female card'.

And quotas could prove harmful in the long run if we're just there to tick a box and make up numbers.

But such is the endemic and intrinsically patriarchal nature of Irish society (whose Constitution still reserves a special place for women in the home and has turned our wombs into mini Republics), significant measures are still required to allow 50pc of the population to take their rightful place in a society of purported equals.

The political case for gender equality and diversity in decision making has not just been met - it has been exceeded.

So too has the business one.

Advancing women's equality can add $12trn to global GDP by 2025, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, while Goldman Sachs calculates that closing the gap between female and male employment rates would boost eurozone GDP by as much as 13pc.

Yet Ireland, 100 years after the Rising, boasts one of the lowest numbers of female participation in politics in Europe - it's no coincidence that our gender pay gap is also one of Europe's highest.

And in business, only 14pc of Irish CEOs and 10.5pc of publicly listed company board members are female.

These are the places where key decisions about all of society are made.

The prospect of political parties losing 50pc of public funding for failing to field 30pc of female candidates during the last General Election focused efforts and was highly effective.

I don't think political gender quotas should be a permanent legislative feature.

But as a temporary measure - say, for three of four electoral cycles - they could prove critical in changing our male-dominated political culture.

That's why I (albeit cautiously) welcome plans by Sports Minister Patrick O'Donovan to forfeit state funding for the country's sporting bodies unless 30pc of their board positions are filled by women.

Incredibly, the board of directors at the GAA, the IRFU and the FAI have no female representative whatsoever - despite the key role that women play in playing and financially supporting those sports.

Threaten to hit bodies where it hurts (in the pocket) and it's surprising how once difficult issues - such as recruiting capable women - can suddenly be overcome.

It goes without saying that any women who serve on boards (I have the privilege - and the onerous legal duty - of serving on several) should have the necessary skills and expertise to do so.

Merit is the pre-requisite. So too is diversity in all its forms and critical mass of both genders.

Women can't have it all, but we must ensure that a society of equals is not dictated on a near exclusive basis by our fellow man.

Dearbhail McDonald is INM Group Business Editor and author of 'What If Men Had Babies' - a satirical reflection on men and women in the workforce

Irish Independent

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