Do all Women Shortlists Demean Women?

Sophie Walker (WEP) & Jane C Woods 490

Because I am pretty vocal about my support for quotas for women in working life (and not just on boards, but ultimately everywhere) I often have to defend my position. It’s not a particularly popular one, either among men or women. Women tell me they would find it demeaning to get a job based on their gender. I usually reply that it hasn’t worried the men for centuries. And it’s far better than the current status quo where women don’t get jobs because of their gender…

Less Good Women Will Get Promoted

I’m also told that quotas mean there will be women in posts who are not good enough. That is truly shocking, presupposing as it does that all the men currently in posts are of top notch quality, and only got there on merit which had nothing to do with their gender, unconscious bias, old boys network, school they attended (noting that top past schools of current government are ones barred to women like Harrow and Eton…) and so many more well documented pieces of research. I think we all know that’s not the case.

Personally, I can live with a few naff women for a while until more women are in the pipeline, although I don’t actually believe there aren’t good women out there. I know businesses do not like legislation to be ‘intrusive’ but the business case is very clear. Companies with diverse workforces have a better bottom line. They make more money. Why would that be seen as a problem?

All these arguments were well rehearsed when race legislation was introduced, or when it became illegal to discriminate on grounds of people’s sexuality. Yet still people of both genders resist the idea of righting a wrong, pointing to advances made using the carrot approach. I for one am not over impressed by those ‘advances’. I don’t think we’ve come very far at all when in the year 2015 we can still say “In no country in the world do women enjoy full equality‘. I’m so fed up with waiting. I want my government to represent my gender too, instead of looking like some old boys club with a few token women in lower grade posts. 50:50 is not something unreasonable to expect. We need to change the culture to get there, and that means quotas, all women short-lists for a while. As Sophie Walker said at the launch of WEP, Parliament needs to be put into special measures for a while, like a school that’s not hitting its targets.

Examples of Good Practice

Recently I’ve been talking to some well known employers about their gender equality initiatives. There will be more on that in another post, but here’s a couple of impressive ones currently in use:

  • Even if you use third party contractors it is possible to insist that, as part of the contract, the company has a robust equal opportunities scheme in place which encompasses gender equality.
  • Everybody involved in recruitment, at whatever level, should have mandatory training in unconscious bias and all advertisements subject to a high level of scrutiny to eliminate bias.
  • When short-listing for jobs the applicants should be, as far as is humanly possible, a 50/50 gender split.
  • Maternity leave is called parental leave and open to both genders, same sex couples, adopters, etc.
  • These rules apply both ways, i.e. in some areas there are far more women than men and this needs addressing, too.

The irony is that I’ve also been talking to some who state publicly on their website that they are committed to gender equality but privately do nothing. This a classic response from despondent HR folk or Learning & Development managers: “We so need something but when it comes down to it I can’t get anything for women funded.” The companies that get it are the ones that keep themselves up to date and want to use new initiatives to keep women coming through the pipeline. The ones that really need it don’t see the need: “We always advertise to a wide market but there just aren’t enough women out there to apply for the posts.”

I was pleased to see journalist Suzanne Moore expounding on quotas in a recent article. If you’d like to read her arguments follow this link to All women shortlists seem terrifying but so is the status-quo. It’s also part of the policy for the Women’s Equality Party (that’s me above with Sophie Walker, leader of WEP. She’s quite tall and I’m quite short…height diversity!).

Speak up is a course for women who want to go further at work. It’s available as an audio download. Get cracking on your brilliant career right now! Click here.


Posted on October 27th, 2015 by

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