Friday, March 8, 2013

Why have gender quotas in Europe?

Today is International Women's Day and there is a great focus on getting women across Europe becoming more involved in politics and other top leading positions in business and trade. It is a part of a greater effort in closing the gap between gender inequality in Europe in all aspects of our working lives.

The plan was launched by the EU Commission and championed by Mrs Viviane Reding, the European Justice Commissioner. It is inspired by similar plans in the Scandinavian countries, that proved very successful in placing more women in their company boards, though they have still failed to increase the number of female CEO's and Chair people.

Following weeks of dispute, the European Commission on Wednesday proposed a gender quota for non-executive directors of companies that are listed on the stock markets in the 27 member states. The plan has already seen strong opposition by Germany, that claims it will be bad for business.

The new regulations, if approved, would stipulate that women occupy 40 percent of the seats on the non-executive boards of Europe's roughly 5,000 publicly traded companies. In instances where candidates' professional qualifications were the same, women would also be given preference, should they be under-represented in that company. Companies that did not adhere to the rules could be sanctioned. (source: http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/european-commission-moves-towards-approving-board-gender-quotas-a-867181.html)

I absolutely agree that we need more women involved in Europe's politics and business. They form around 50% of Europe's population, so they should have a larger voice and part in its governance and business activities. But I just do not think that placing quotas is the right way of doing it.

Women do have more to offer and certainly we need their creativity and way of thinking in creating a more balanced society. Remember in nature, it takes the unification of both female and male in creating perfection. But by placing quotas, we are only creating more complexities. With quotas many that deserve the position will be left out, simply because of their sex. That of course you will say it has been happening already in most European states, at the expense of women.

But why complicate things when trying to fix a problem? If you want to have more women involved in politics and the European boardrooms, then give them more free time and lift the weight of the house keeping and child raising off their shoulders. It is true that many women are losing job opportunities, just because companies won't employ them. They simply try to avoid paying for the maternal leave and absence during the months following the birth of their child.

And that means that we need to start giving more rights, or obligations for men in the family. Until now it was mainly women that had to leave work to raise their children. House keeping is mainly a woman’s responsibility. If you are a stay-at-home-dad is still seen as laughable for most Europeans.

Perhaps that is what we need to change. Why women who want to have high ranking jobs must leave for around 6 months to raise a child? Couldn't this time be split between the partners, so while the mother takes the first 3 moths off work and if she wishes to continue her career, her partner could take over for the rest of the time?

In that way, women won't be seen as the only ones who will have to be on paid leave for months because of pregnancy or having a child. Men who want to become fathers will have the same rights, or if seen from a business owner's perspective, the same amount of "awkwardness" for the business.

We simply need to change attitudes and mentality as a society. If we see women as equals, then we will inspire them to get more involved and if we give them the initiatives to do so, I believe they will. If we promote the right role models to our young, attitudes will change. No quota can ever achieve that as harmoniously. That is clearly a bureaucratic way of solving a problem.

Here is how I see it: if one company advertises for three top positions and 10 people apply, that only three of them are women. But it just happens that the three best candidates are men. There is a quota that one position must go to a woman. Then who loses out, the man who lost his position, the company or both?

Why not try to attract more women applying for the position and make the ratio of applicants almost 50-50. Then it is bound that more qualified women will be in this bunch and take not just one but even two of the positions offered- or perhaps all of them, if they are indeed the best candidates.

In my opinion a quota is not right way, though it is done for a right cause and I applaud the people involved in this effort for daring to raise this issue of inequality and acting on it. But for encouraging more women to go for these positions we need to change attitudes and perceptions about them and offer our societies different role models. And of course different business ethos and initiatives towards them.

Perhaps the easiest and fastest way for results is to place quotas. But then that is sad because it shows that we, as humans are not ready yet to change mentality about half of our population and we need to place laws to enforce righteous changes for the better.

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