Many of my readers – particularly women – have been asking how come I have not put in my two cents’ worth about the likely introduction of mandatory quotas for women in the boardroom. The reason is a simple one: while I do have a very strong opinion about it, I didn’t want to shoot my mouth off before re-reading, re-researching and re-evaluating.
Now that I have, I find that my opinion about this issue remains unchanged. I know most of you who have asked me to write about this will not be pleased. I am a woman (yes, really) and somehow all those who share my gender automatically seem to be expecting me to be shouting “bravo, bravo” at the prospect of these quotas. Well, I won’t apologise for calling this quotas thing utter bunkum and an insult to all women.
Yes, there is a serious dearth of women in high, decision-making positions. And yes, this is likely to be more a result of a subconscious gender-bias than a result of lack of brain power amongst those who don’t possess the Y chromosome.
Am I happy with the status quo? Of course not. Although I firmly believe that the cases where there is intentional gender discrimination are becoming rarer and rarer, the subconscious bias is still there.
Would I like this state of affairs to change? Definitely. How can this be achieved? Like most things in life, the issue is a complex one and I have no ready and easy solution about how we can ensure that women get what they deserve in the corporate world. However, I know that imposing mandatory quotas is not the way to do it.
Please note the use of the phrase “what they deserve” in the sentence before the last. This phrase is the reason why I am firmly entrenched in the anti-quota camp. Whether we like it or not, our gender is no automatic guarantee that any of us are the best woman for a given job.
Allow me to elaborate. Foisting someone who is obviously unsuited to a particular position simply because she possesses the right gender criteria is a sure-fire way to undermine society’s respect towards that gender.
Let’s make it personal. I know that I did not get my present job because I’m a woman, but because someone decided that at that moment in time and with a given set of circumstances, I was the best candidate available. At least that’s what I like to think. What is sure is that my gender had nothing to do with this decision.
As I write this I try to imagine how I would feel – and what effect this would have on the quality of my work – if the situation were different. How would I view my position and my responsibilities if I had been awarded these simply because there was a gender quota to fill? The answer to that is “not proud at all”. And make no doubt about it, this lack of pride would definitely find its way reflected in my performance.
There’s also the other side of the coin, of course. Even if you remove the pride factor, how seriously would the other (presumably male) members of a board of directors take the token woman in their midst?
Respect in the board-room is not a lottery of quotas; it is earned. A place in the boardroom is normally an indication of trust, of mutual respect. Any CEO who is forced to raise a woman to this level not because these two factors are present, but because if he doesn’t he faces hefty fines… well, let’s just say that s/he is unlikely to value the input offered by this “imposition”.
I can just picture the scene in some CEO’s office. Whatever proposal the female board member is going to come up with, whatever disagreements/issues about the running of the company she might bring up, the reaction from her (again, presumably male) colleagues is guaranteed:
“Never mind her, she’s only here because we had to fill the quota.”
EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has gone on record saying she is not a great fan of quotas, but she likes the results they bring. Rather ironic, given that Reding made it to her present position not thanks to any quotas but on her own steam. If she can do it, how come she is assuming that other women can’t?
While I’m all for breaking the infamous glass ceiling, the reality is that the pool of women who make potential board-room material is much more limited than that same pool of men – particularly in Malta. The bigger portion of the fault lies not with gender bias, but rather with the fact that the percentage of adult women who don’t put the brakes on their career as soon as they marry/have a child remains very poor – again, particularly in Malta.
I’d say let’s focus on making it easier for women to continue working even after they have kids. And let’s educate those who still think they should hand in a letter of resignation as soon as they get married (yes, there are still many of those). Let’s do everything we can to increase that pool of potentials. The rest is likely to follow. If it doesn’t, then we can discuss the next step.
In the meantime, I will oppose anything that is likely to give the impression that I’m anyone’s token woman.
This post appeared on The TV Guide (The Times of Malta).