Is it time for Quotas?

Women in Business was delighted to present the Spotlight on Success Conference in the Crowne Plaza Belfast last week.  It was a really inspirational event that brought together an array of amazing female leaders from both the local and national business world, who shared their personal and business challenges; their failings and of course their accolades.

Importantly, this event gave the delegates, a chance to learn and grow from the treasured advice and life experiences that our guest speakers so willingly divulged.

The line-up of guest speakers was outstanding, it included, Rachel Booker, Executive People Director, Virgin Media; Rebecca Stephens MBE, British journalist, mountaineer and television presenter; Edel Doherty, MD of Beyond Business Travel; Prof Karise Hutchinson, Professor of Leadership at Ulster University; Deborah Lange, Certified Public Accountant and Louise Kelly, Partner, Grant Thornton.

As I listened to the fantastic female speakers, it occurred to me that these were just six out of the 50 plus other speakers we have had on our Spotlight on Success lunchtime and conference speaker series. And as delegates approached me saying how amazing the women were, I responded with “yes, they are amazing, and do you know what, there are lots of them and always has been!”.

Yet, this is not reflected in the recent Belfast Telegraph’s Top 100 Companies. I was appalled and hugely disappointed that a mere three women were represented in the Top 100 this year, despite women making up half the population. This figure is simply just not representative of the female talent and expertise we have available in Northern Ireland.

The three females included Darina Armstrong, CEO, Progressive Building Society, Sarah Venning, NI Water and Elaine Birchall, CEO, SHS Group. It is no surprise that these three organisations hold the Gender Diversity Charter Mark.

These are amazing women doing amazing work no doubt, but there a many other women out there who are doing just as amazingly, but for some reason or other, they were seemingly overlooked and disregarded.
The Top 100 yet again reaffirms the fear that gender equality will not be achieved in our lifetime. More shockingly, according to the World Economic Forum’s global index we won’t see gender equality achieved until 2186.

Jade Collins, Director, Femeconomy, a social enterprise encouraging everyone to support female lead companies, said that, “Companies setting gender diversity targets are not moving the dial fast enough.” This is starkly obvious in the slowing rate of female directors’ appointments to Boards.

I am still asking myself who is deciding how success is measured. And more significantly, who decides what merit looks like. When quotas are mentioned with regard to women the very next word is merit, a clear assumption that there are not enough women with whatever “Merit“is required. This both confuses and greatly astonishes me.

Collins states that’s, “The strongest resistance brought to bear against quotas is via the merit argument. This argument that quotas will lead to not having the best person appointed for the job, presupposes that there is a supply deficit of qualified and experienced women. It also assumes a robust, well defined and collectively understood definition of what constitutes ‘merit’. In most cases, there is neither.”

The argument constantly that selection must be on merit rather than by affirmative action programmes or quota systems assumes a level playing field exists. Women are well aware of the systematic barriers. Until those barriers are recognised by ALL in a selection process and removed, selection on merit is a myth!

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report found that economic parity between the sexes would not be reached until 2186 after a dramatic slowdown in progress.

Are you happy to wait 167 years?

Is it time for Quotas?