As a woman in the workplace I don’t want to be distinguished from my male counterparts; I feel I can do just as good a job and I am equally as capable. However, this is just not possible. I am not the same as the men I work with, I am not inferior but I am different. Women simply are not adequately represented in senior positions in the business world or as representatives in public life, and major changes are needed to tackle the deficit of female representation.
This Government recognises that change is needed and we have taken action to address this by introducing gender quotas for the next General Election. For the first time 30% of the candidates on the ticket will be female. I know many women feel gender quotas are unnecessary and distasteful; they don’t want to be token members on boards or to feel they were unduly elevated simply because the company they work for, or the party they are a member of, needs more women. However I do not accept that this is the case. I believe that there are women out there to fill the top positions, we just need to encourage them to come forward. Women in Ireland are the most educated in EU and we need to ask ourselves why they are not making it to senior positions.
The introduction of gender quotas for state boards has meant that in six years female representation has gone from 10% to 40%. Advancing this project further, each Government Department that has not yet reached 40% has been asked to prepare a plan to reaffirm their commitment to reacht he target during the lifetime of this Government. In order to support the delivery of the Government’s target on gender equality on State Boards, the Department of Justice and Equality will set up a pilot project for the development of a Talent Bank of women who would be prepared to serve on State Boards.
It is an internationally accepted fact that diverse companies, diverse boards and diverse Governments achieve the best results and this is the goal we are pursuing. During Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington’s recent case in the Equality Court it was found that in a corporate setting, men had a one in two chance of promotion, while the women who apply for the same promotion have less than a one in three chance. In companies where women are in the majority, senior positions are still predominantly held by men. This needs to change.
Only this week in Germany, one of the world’s most developed economies, it was confirmed that frauenquote, Women’s quotas, will mean that 30% of the country’s top boards must comprise of women. Writing in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, commentator Heribert Prantl said frauenquote are not the introduction of quotas, rather they are breaking through existing quotas … they are a tool to establish sensible standards. Just as children learn to swim with armbands, so the women’s quotas are the armbands of society.”
At present there are 27 women and 139 men in Dáil Éireann, this is a record for female representation. In the history of this state there have only ever been 14 female Ministers. There is something seriously wrong with these statistics. Gender quotas aim to encourage women who have the ability to come forward and assure them that they will have the opportunity to represent their constituency or to serve on a State Board.
We know that Irish women have the skills but we also know that there are reasons why they are not putting themselves forward. Many women feel they cannot commit to the responsibility that comes with these positions and balance their family lives at the same time. There is no doubt that there is merit in this argument. However, until more women are in these positions, nothing will change. Gender quotas will fast-track the process of involving women in Irish public life and in State Boards, like Heribert Prantl said they are our armbands until this becomes the norm and equal representation comes natuarally in all areas. This Government has done more than any before us to address the issue of gender equality and quotas are just the starting point to bring us to the finish line of truly representating the Irish population.