Gender Quotas or real change?

Working mother with child on couch

It drives me nuts whenever I hear it mentioned ..

New legislation in Ireland means political parties are required to ensure at least 30 per cent of their candidates in the 2016 General Election are women; any party that fails to reach the target will have its State funding cut by 50 per cent. 

Parties will also be required to have 40 per cent or more female candidates after a further seven years.

My first thought is how is this ‘rigging’ possible in a modern society where we all enjoy equal opportunities and there are no real ‘blocks’ to men or women achieving what they want?

We hear about the ‘old boy’s club‘ in politics – when you probe this it is more about dynasties of political power that will keep me on the outside just as it would any woman that I know. However if I want to run I can just the same as any woman can.

The solution to the “problem” of the numerical gender imbalance is to ‘rig’ the situation by forcing female candidates in and male candidates out until the magic numbers are achieved.

Are you there on merit?  In a rigged situation you will just never know, which for me will do a huge disservice to every woman in politics.

And then we have the boardroom..

The European Commission pushed a proposal forward in November 2012. At its heart lies a requirement for 40% female representation among non-executive directors in publicly listed companies by 2020. 

Once again the solution to the “problem” of the numerical gender imbalance is to ‘rig’ the situation by forcing females in and males out until the magic numbers are achieved.

Are you there on merit?  Again, a huge disservice to every woman in business.

Are we really serious about gender equality?

I believe if we really want to achieve this gender equality then we need to radically alter our social structures and change how we look at the roles of men and women in society.

This starts with the issue of parenthood, which seems to be the key moment that derails careers for many women.

If we are equal there must be no difference between a man and a woman when little Johnny has a fever. It must be as normal for the father to run home to look after him as it is for the mother.

If we are equal there must be no difference between a man and a woman when it comes to leave after a baby is born (other than the natural time a woman needs for physically preparing and recovering from birth).

When an employee announces they are having a baby the scenario and the disruption to the careers of the person and to the workplace should within reason be the same for both the man and the woman.

Father with baby

If this happens employers will be less concerned about disruption due to maternity leave with female team members, which is always a huge challenge for both the woman and the employer with the men blissfully pushing on with their careers uninterrupted.

For example Denmark make some attempt at equality here. Parental leave is a whopping 52 weeks in total with the woman taking 18 weeks, the man 2 weeks and both sharing the remaining 32 weeks as they wish.

Can you imagine a man announcing to his boss that “we are having a baby so I will be taking 6 months paternity leave as my wife has chosen to get back to work as soon as possible“? ….congratulations!

The Huffington Post covered this topic recently: In the Nordic countries they have made it possible for parents to combine work and family, resulting in more women in the workplace, more shared participation in childcare, more equitable distribution of labour at home, better work-life balance for both women and men and, in some cases, a boost to waning fertility rates.

Policies in these countries include mandatory paternal leave in combination with maternity leave, generous, state-mandated parental leave benefits provided by a combination of social insurance funds and employers, tax incentives and post-maternity re-entry programmes. Together, these policies have lowered the opportunity costs of having children and led to relatively higher and rising birth rates, as compared to other ageing, developed economies.

As long as having a baby can disrupt the career and workplace of the woman and have virtually no effect on the man and as long as the woman is always seen as the main child carer then we will always struggle to achieve true equality.

If we are really serious about gender equality we need to fundamentally change how our society operates and forget about unfair, risky and potentially damaging  ‘rigging’ tactics when the dye has already been cast and it is just too late. 

Greg Canty 

Greg Canty is a Partner of Fuzion who offer Marketing, PR and Graphic Design services from our offices in Dublin and Cork





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5 Responses to “Gender Quotas or real change?”

  1. Clare Duignan Says:

    As a Board member of Women for Election I understand that you may not like quotas. I am not a huge fan of them myself. But I like what they do.

    Something has to change in Irish politics. Otherwise, If my great-great-great-great-great grand-daughter runs for election in 2265 chances are, she might, just MIGHT, enter a Dáil where 50:50 representation has finally been reached. That’s because if current trends continue, it will take another 250 years before we have equal representation of men and women in our national parliament. And if women are not in the Dáil, they won’t be at the Cabinet table, taking part in decision-making about this country and our future. I believe that diversity at the Cabinet ( and Board-room) table delivers better decisions and better outcomes.

    This Dáil has the highest number of female TD’s since the foundation of the state, a mere 16%. After the upcoming general election, because the major parties have to select 30% of female candidates or face a financial penalty, the balance might be tipped more in favour of the 50% of the population who are currently so under-represented.

    Despite what you say about there being ‘no real blocks’ to men or women achieving what they want, the truth is-there are.The best international research into why women are so under-represented in politics, shows that the reasons are the ‘Five Cs’ – confidence, culture, candidate selection, cash and childcare.

    Women for Election does a lot of work around these five issues with our programmes that train, mentor and support women from across the political spectrum to run for election. We find that women – even capable, competent women who are leaders in their own businesses and communities – lack the confidence to step forward. When they do step forward, women face a culture challenge where they are entering an overwhelmingly male dominated and controlled world. And even if women get over the first two barriers, they are confronted by the third; candidate selection.

    Anyone who doubts the stranglehold that men have in local party structures was given a stark reminder recently with the comments of long-time Fianna Fáil Councillor Tom Brabazon.who argues that voters should look to elect ‘real women with real life experience of childbirth.’ Those left scratching their heads wondering how giving birth qualifies you to represent a constituency, debate legislation and pass laws missed the point. The reality is that Councillor Brabazon, in a hotly contested constituency, was attempting to denigrate his two female colleagues, neither of whom happen to have children. Never mind that Councillor Brabazon did not extend his comments to men needing such ‘real life experience’. The message was clear. Here is another barrier that women have to overcome. Conversely some men see having children as the problem. Former Fine Gael Councillor Pat Hussey resigned from his party when a woman was added to the local election ticket because, in his view, women with children shouldn’t run ‘because of the exorbitant crèche fees they would have to pay’ if elected. Such risible comments from these two male Councillors would be laughable if they were not so accurate of much of the Irish local political scene. These men are leaders and people of influence in their local party organisations where women are trying to get on the ticket. If the culture (stated publicly) is so stacked against women, how bad must it be in the back room?

    Since 2012, Women for Election has trained, mentored and supported women who want to step forward and get on the ticket, or work to support a woman who is seeking to do so. Over 600 women have come through our courses, and in that time we have repeatedly heard the same story from women from all parties of just how difficult it is to breech the barrier of candidate selection. It is evident to us that those confident women who can overcome the culture challenge must be given support in candidate selection. It is not patronising or tokenistic, nor is it rigging. It is merely a practical solution to an intractable problem. The voters can still decide who they want to elect-but at least in next years election, 30% of the candidates on the ballot paper will be women.
    Sometimes it takes a change in the law to change the culture. We may wish it wasn’t so, but wishing and hoping has only got us 16% of women in the Dáil. So I say-lets give quotas a try, at least for a while.

    • Greg Canty Says:

      Thanks Clare for such a fantastic response and for enlightening me on your great organisation and the work that you are doing.

      I think in a way we are making the same point – I feel the fundamental structures need to be changed, which is what your organisation is trying to do. Confidence, culture, candidate selection, cash and childcare are all things that have to be in place for any candidate, male or female.

      I suspect that if I wanted to get on the ticket in the morning I would be faced with the same challenges – in many ways it is more a ‘historic network’ than an ‘old boys club’.

      However, I would hate a situation that would have anyone in a position because of a quota and not on merit – I feel that this could be very damaging to that person and to the role that we want them to fulfil.

      If we dig even deeper to achieve the correct balance of society in politics (or other key roles) we should look at other factors such as age and background …this could go on and on.

      Quotas, no thanks

      .. but changing perceptions about men and women’s roles in parenting, changing the rules around maternity/paternity leave and organisations like yours doing great work and addressing possible issues that some women may have … Yes Please !!


  2. Clare Duignan Says:

    By the way, my response above draws heavily on a recent piece by Chair of Women for Election Michelle O’Donnell-Keating. Thanks Michelle!

  3. Tom Brabazon Says:

    By the way Clare, a lot of people have made comments on my comments without having had the benefit of actually reading what I wrote eg the National Womens Council who could not even get my name right in their press release. They relied on out of context paragraph published by other media to try to ridicule me.

    For your information I have promoted female candidates in my constituency unlike some of those who claim to have been offended by my deliberately misinterpreted piece. The childbirth reference which I regret now given what has happened, was only mentioned in the context of all of the trouble and endless cases of medical negligence we are having in our maternity hospitals and not in anyway to denegrade any female as you quite incorrectly suggest.

    The context is that only females with experience of maternity services can probably properly inform policy in this area on how to improve it as users -something males can only do in a peripheral way. The trying to turn the argument on its head and saying that men are never asked whether or not they have children in this context is completely irrelevant as none of them can ever have them due to the obvious biological differences between men and women. Women and men are not the same, whilst they might be similar, men and women should bring those differences and different experiences to the table of policy formulation. I come from a family where I have a mother , four sisters, a mother in law, a sister in law a wife and three daughters and I would be more pro women and women candidates than most. To be portrayed as some kind of a mosogonist is utterly wrong.

    The article was written not from my constituency perspective at all but from a national perspective because regardless of what you might say, I think that gender quotas will mean that Ireland as a country will not have the best politicians available to it for whatever period they will apply and they are a great insult to women in my personal view.

  4. Paternity leave, gender equality and the changing role of fathers | Greg Canty Fuzion Blog Says:

    […] we are serious about the guys role as a parent and we are really serious about gender equality then us fellas need to be treated as […]

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