Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mary Honeyball On Quotas

Mary Honeyball MEP has been sounding off, impervious to rational morality...

I am very much in favour of mandatory quotas to further women's representation in the workplace and politics. Men already give preference to other men, so in a sense quotas already exist

No, Mary. Firstly a quota is a mandatory outcome objective, whereas giving preference to particular workers (for whatever reason) is not in the slightest bit similar.

It took all-women shortlists to raise the number of Labour women MPs to 27% of the parliamentary Labour party. Compare this with the Tories – who, incidentally, oppose quotas – of whom only 9% are female. Quotas do work, and I do not believe we will get significantly more women elected representatives without them.

Of course quotas 'work' - they are quotas! But they do not achieve the objective. If the reasoning behind quotas is to ensure that woman are not unfairly discriminated against because of their gender, then quotas are entirely the wrong tool.

To set quotas is to prioritise an arbitrary characteristic such as gender above merit, and is to ignore the different skill sets men and women possess, and the lifestyle choices they make. Surely the objective should be to ensure that there are no artificial barriers to women? Much harder, but certainly tackles the root of the issue and, unlike quotas, preserves the dignity and respect of women. Yes, Mary, elevating gender above merit devalues the contribution and achievements of women since their peers can no longer be sure of their merit but suspect the hidden assistance of immoral law.

What of the employer faced with a woman and a man applying for a vacancy? He (or, of course, she) will now be thinking "has she achieved her current position on merit, or because the company would be fined for not meeting their quotas?". If the cost to her current employer of employing her (gross wage + benefits, desk space, etc) is lower than the fine that could be imposed by not employing her then the company will. But can the existence of such a system, whether it impacts the life of the women above or not, help women to achieve equality with men? The fact is that the very existence of the system would throw a blanket of doubt over all women.

Also take a company, say a IT network engineering company. Now that industry is dominated by men. Why? Not because because of rampant discrimination, but because men's brains are more suited to engineer/IT type roles, and women on the whole are both less suited but also less interested in it. Would that be wrong, Mary? Would that company have to employ lots of women, even if only to sit in the corner and look pretty, to avoid an astronomical fine?

Fears that women who gain positions through quotas will see their authority undermined are cited. But without big steps, women's representation in the UK workplace and democracy is stagnating. The pay gap is starting to increase again in the UK, rising 1% to 17% this year, and women's representation on company boards and in parliament is increasing so slowly that it will take another 100 years for them to reach parity with men.

But what is "parity", Mary? You say it is outcome based - ensure there are equal number of both men and women. I say that is moronic and wholly immoral, and that the only justifiable measure should be process/input based. In other words, we should be looking for artificial barriers to women succeeding, and not looking at how many do.

Only by getting more women into parliament will some of the structural barriers that prevent more women from being elected be removed.

Er...what? If more women get elected then the barriers are not structural. And if they are elected, then we have surely reached the point where legislation and quotas are not necessary.

Needless to say I will not be supporting her 50:50 campaign!


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