Are quotas and female only shortlists good for women?

Quotas seem wrong. I want to know that I have my job because I was the best candidate.  I’m not in need of a helping hand, I’m good at what I do.  And so the idea of positive discrimination and quotas seems wrong – positive discrimination is still discrimination, and it suggests that women can’t compete on a level playing field.

But, even a generation after the equal pay act and women being supposedly equal in the work place, women aren’t represented at the top of business.  Graham Snowdon concluded in the Guardian in this article recently that this was because women aren’t inspired to succeed.  Only 50% of women under 30 aspire to leadership, compared to two thirds of men.    If the only successful women see are WAGs and celebs, then is it any wonder that’s what they want to be?   Object have found that 63% of young women aspire to be glamour models or lap dancers, and I think this is really scary.

So could quotas be the answer?   This guardian article suggests they could be.  If businesses are forced to make women more visible, then perhaps women will be inspired to emulate them, and in another generation we won’t need quotas.  But let us look at the role models that are visible since the equal pay act was passed.   Women on TV have always been beautiful.  But compare Angela Rippon and Moira Stuart to Holly and Fern.  Angela & Moira were beautiful, but they weren’t in the fashion mags, they weren’t famous for their relationship gossip.  They were professionals.  Even the older women we see on TV today seem to be chosen for their relationships.  Why was Eamon Holmes’ wife chosen to co-present this morning?

The strongest women are still in very female roles.  Kym & Aggie show you how to clean, Jo Frost is Super Nanny.  Carole Vorderman didn’t get the hot seat after Richard Whiteley’s death, instead it went to another older man.  There is definitely a vacuum of professional leaders as role models at the moment and this has been getting worse in the last 25 years, not better.

Growing up, I had a wide range of strong women role models for me to look up to, chosen not for their looks but for their abilities.  I remember it being very scary when Margaret Thatcher was no longer to be Prime Minister.  Whoever was the next PM was going to be a man, and that just seemed like a really bad idea.  But I didn’t want to be Maggie.  For about 6 months I wanted to be Edwina Curry, but mostly I wanted to be Betty Boothroyd.

So maybe women don’t need help from the government in the form of quotas, maybe they need confidence and inspiration.  Perhaps, instead of getting others to act, the government could act themselves.  How about a quota of women in government.  And not buried away, but at the forefront.  We see more of Sam Cam than we do Baroness Farsi.

Perhaps if the men on boards had to approach a female business secretary, or the banks had to report to a female treasury secretary, this would show them that women can be capable.  And insprire women to make achievements themselves.

So before introducing quotas – which could lead to tokenism and suspicion of women in business, why doesn’t the government take action within it’s own circles, and make women visible in British politics.

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3 Comments on “Are quotas and female only shortlists good for women?”

  1. glassceilingdebate says:

    I disagree with your assumption that there is a level playing field out there for men and women. As women, we’d like to think there is, but there isn’t. The problem is not with women. There are lots of strong role models for us. There are lots of highly educated and experienced women waiting in the wings to be managers and board members. The problem is with the decision-makers who hire managers and board members and guess who they are – MEN! Let’s stop analyzing what is wrong with women and put the decision-makers under the microscope for a change.

  2. jenniesue says:

    Thank you so much for commenting.
    Perhaps society needs to see positive role models?
    I really wasn’t trying to blame women. But the lack of professional female role models could be contributing to men not wanting to appoint women to the most senior roles. And the stats collected about young women’s ambitions are really disappointing – and the glamour model ambition is downright scary.

    I really don’t think that quotas will be the answer. Forcing boards to appoint a “token woman” could lead to women being taken less seriously as “she’s just here to fulfill the quota”.

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment!

  3. Molly says:

    I think quotas in government are a good idea. I wish they weren’t necessary, but I don’t see any other way of women even coming close to equal representation in government. I’m not sure what the rates are in the U.K., but in the U.S., women hold 16% of the seats in Congress. That’s just pathetic.


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