Queen’s Management School recently launched a new annual lecture series on diversity which former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, kindly lent her name to.
The lecture series is part of Queen’s Management School’s mission to promote greater equality and diversity in the workplace, particularly gender equality.
During the launch event, BBC broadcaster Wendy Austin interviewed Professor McAleese who drew on her own experience, and very obvious intelligence, to make the case that diversity was just common sense.
Professor McAleese covered a lot of ground but I’m going to focus on two issues that arose in response to questions from the audience. The first is quotas. Do we need quotas for women in areas where they are under-represented? A lot of younger women worry that if there are quotas people will think they only got the job because of them. Older women, myself included, tend to realise that without quotas, progress will be lamentably slow. You won’t need to worry about people thinking you are not up to the job because chances are that you won’t get it in the first place.
Quotas don’t mean that you get jobs you are not qualified for, the employer should set criteria based on what is objectively required to do the job (an issue in itself) and you need to meet the criteria to get it.
As Professor McAleese put, the problem of women’s underrepresentation in some roles is so great that we should look on quotas as a useful tool in releasing talent and in challenging embedded prejudices. Professor McAleese supports the 30% club because, from where we are, 30 per cent female representation in every kind of role would be progress. Also, 30 per cent has been shown to be a tipping point –women are there doing the job and no longer a novelty. 50 per cent becomes easier to reach.
The other issue Professor McAleese was asked about was the problem of confidence, of feeling you are an imposter. Her answer was that you have to recognise that when you start something new, there will be people who have been fulfilling the role already and they will know more than you.
You should expect that but what matters is your capacity and willingness to learn. Professor McAleese’s advice was to find a mentor. Look and see who you can learn from and ask them. Most will be delighted to help.
Dr Renee Prendergast
Reader in Economics and SWAN Champion in Queen’s Management School