Nobody’s token woman


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).



  1. Aldo Chircop says:

    Well said. The glass ceiling myth is just that, a myth … along with its other partner in slime that says that women get paid less (hint: they don’t get paid less … if anything, they EARN less when everyone’s income is averaged out. Big difference there. Likely causes: working less hours collectively, choice of lesser paid jobs, etc). These are just inventions to create the perception of a problem in the public, so that more and more activist and lobby groups have a reason to exist and get paid fat salaries from the public coffers.

    A couple more considerations:

    1) Private companies do not exist to do charity or act as a surrogate welfare state. They have one precise purpose: to make a profit by serving a need in the market place (in case someone didn’t notice either, everyone’s livelihood depends on someone somewhere making a profit). The issue of what gender the directors happen to be, is totally irrelevant. Customers and shareholders won’t certainly buy a product or service based on that. PS: Random fact of the day- Carly Fiorina (a woman), almost destroyed Hewlett Packard totally while she was its CEO

    2) It’s immoral for any government to use the wealth, time and resources of PRIVATE enterprises for their own f****d up sociological experiments. That many people don’t even bat an eyelid at, or even applaud such a monstrous concept just shows in what a sad state societies are in nowadays. As someone prominent once said: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

    Then again, I’m pretty sure that in the EU these kind of laws imposing “quotas” indeed exist. I remember an Italian industrialist telling me that his company is compelled by law to ’employ’ a certain number disabled people. So women want something that puts them on the same level? Way to go :)
    I remember I told this guy: “well, it’s basically a legalized protection racket”. His answer: “%$#@^#@ .. you couldn’t have said it better!”

    3) To everyone rattling the bars of their cot and asking for free rides just cos they happened to be born with a particular chromosome or orientation or colour or whatever, I say this: “Do you want some cheese with that whine?”. Quit bloody whining and actually do something useful to society like everyone else, please. Then maybe you’ll go somewhere.


  2. marni says:

    I certainly would have agreed with you when I was younger, but I have seen the opposite play out on a regular basis, which is requiring that women have more qualifications for the exact same job. Years ago, when I completed college as a math major, I got a job as a computer programmer. This was a big deal back in the day when it was felt that women couldn’t do math. I earned quite a bit more than my female friends who weren’t computer programmers. I worked in an office with 7 women and 38 men. All the women had 4 year degrees in math. Most of the men had not even completed college. Some had learned computer programming straight out of high school at a 6 month ITT program. No one will ‘take a chance’ on a woman without a degree but given a choice between equals the man WILL get selected. If someone hires a woman and she doesn’t work out then that someone will say “I should have known better. I won’t hire a woman next time. Clearly if that same someone hires a man who doesn’t work out, well that was just unfortunate. It doesn’t help when women don’t support other women. There really is an old boys club. There are lots of men who get jobs they don’t deserve but no one calls them tokens. We take aim at affirmative action for college admission but we don’t take aim at legacy admission. George W. attended Yale because of legacy and he is president because of his father. Although there were lots of people who did not like W, no one ever called him the token that he was.