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Can Gender Quotas Solve Workplace Inequality?

Women.

We can’t work in science labs without falling in love with everyone and crying a lot, most of us wouldn’t have our jobs if it weren’t for our looks and it would be ‘folly’ to expect we should ever approach equal representation as we just have different abilities to men. It must be those damn periods of ours, making us all emotionally unstable and unfit to make important, manly decisions.

The thing is, women outnumber men as university graduates on an international level. In the 2015 HSC alone girls outperformed boys in even the most traditionally male subjects. We’ve had our first female Prime Minister in Australia. We’ve got Beyonce, Julie Bishop, Emma Watson, Amy Schumer, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Michelle Obama, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and the bloody Queen representing some serious vag power.

Yet only 17% of CEOs in Australia are women. We make 78 cents to a man’s dollar. I could go on, but I’m already bored of these depressing Gender Studies 101 stats so I’m going to move on for everyone’s benefit – because let’s be real, we’re all sick to death of hearing them.

Finally – though at a somewhat glacial pace – people are realizing that women are, at the very least, as capable as men.

In 2006, Norway, a radical utopia that the housewives of Australia can only dream of wistfully while doing the ironing, was like: ‘Look. We’re over this shit. 40% of all directors in all listed companies must be female”.  

Belgium, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain all thought Norway was on to a winner here and decided to do the same.  

And now we have Australian companies like Qantas and Westpac starting to set their own gender quotas.

Is this ‘lads lads lads’ culture, still prominent in so many industries, holding women back from making necessary connections and acquiring senior management positions naturally?

Obviously these quotas provide women with the necessary opportunities to take positions of leadership and demonstrate their abilities fifty times over. Rather than have people continue to think that women like Gale Kelly are the exception to the rule, we’ll see more and more women prove to the world that they have the skills to succeed.

Now for the difficult part: what happens if women who aren’t capable are given positions they aren’t qualified for in the name of filling a gender quota? When they inevitably aren’t killing it at their job, those waiting to say ‘I told you so’, will.

And they’ll be loud about it too. They will click their tongues, adjust their suits and continue to use those few examples as justification for their biases.

Forbes has also found that when surveyed, nearly 70% of respondents, equally male and female, say that quotas negate the importance of merit and turn them off working for a company. So, from a strict performance perspective at least, we may have a problem with quotas.

Even taking this into account, I can’t help but think back to media agency M&C Saatchi’s 21st birthday stripper-popping-out-of-a-cake incident earlier this year. Would that have happened if 50% of M&C Saatchi’s senior management team had been female? Is this ‘lads lads lads’ culture, still prominent in so many industries, holding women back from making necessary connections and acquiring senior management positions naturally? Is this culture the reason we need gender quotas? To dismantle years of stripper cakes and golf weekends?

Gender quotas could start to shake up the normalcy of everyday workplace sexism and push more talented women past the stripper cake ceiling. Or they could shoot us in the foot and reinforce the idea that most women can’t make it to the top without a leg up.  

At worst, gender quotas could become the new sleeping with the boss joke (and we all know how Monica Lewinsky’s career went down in history). But at their best, simply by the very presence of the women they empower we could be on the cusp of revolutionising business culture, allowing women of the next generation an unimpeded path to the same pay, benefits, and more importantly respect currently offered to their male counterparts.

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