The quota problem

I sometimes wonder if people who spout such nonsense actually stop to think about what they are saying. Their opinion of women must be really low...

The issue relating to quotas targeted at increasing female participation in the political sphere and on boards has once again risen in the public agenda, trotted out predictably as a bone of contention on Women's Day. This proposal is one that invariably engenders passionate exchanges on online comment boards and around the office water cooler.
I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about the matter. As an entrepreneur who has been operating in the IT sector for the last 14 years I have never found being a woman to be a disadvantage. Clearly, there are a number of challenges that are unique to women and that men do not experience (such as running a company while pregnant), but I have never found these challenges to be insurmountable.
However, I have always been perplexed about the paucity of women in Maltese boardrooms. According to statistics recently touted in the media, only 3% of people sitting on boards in Malta are female. Now call me a feminist if you wish, but I find it hard to believe that there are only three women of board calibre for every 97 men who are up to the job. Ultimately, there are no two ways about it - it is either a case of women being spectacularly incompetent and vastly inferior to men when it comes to business, or else that men are preferred to women when it comes to choosing people to place on board level. In my opinion it is much more likely to be the latter rather than the former.
As far as I am concerned, the whole idea of quotas is insulting - women should not need a quota to achieve better representation on board level. I know lots of successful women and frankly I would have no problem identifying dozens of others who I am sure would do a sterling job on any board they would be invited to form part of. However when faced with these statistics - i.e. the fact that only three women are appointed on company boards for every 97 men - I am forced to concede that we have a gender problem that requires radical action.
The main argument against quotas is that such a system would penalise the competent and favour those who are less competent - in other words they say that women will get onto boards not because they deserve to do so, but simply because of their gender. According to those who use this argument, having a quota dictating that boards should have at least 30% female representation is unfair on men.  
I sometimes wonder if people who spout such nonsense actually stop to think about what they are saying. Their opinion of women must be really low if they truly believe that it is impossible to find three women of equal calibre to men for every seven men on a board. I would understand their complaints if the proposed quotas were 60% or 70%, but we are talking of 30% here, for goodness sake!
The real problem here is that in most cases it is men who are over 50 that are choosing board members. To do so they tap their 'old boys' network' and their circle of colleagues and acquaintances. They choose the people they feel most comfortable with and socialise regularly. Selecting women puts them outside their comfort zone for two reasons: firstly because they have less in common with women and so would not know them that well, and secondly because women their age are rarely involved in business.
Putting obligatory quotas in place will indeed be an inconvenience for those who are selecting board members. However, the inconvenience is not because they would have to select incompetent women - it is purely due to the fact that they will have to cast their net much wider when undergoing candidate selection. Instead of simply sticking to what they know well and feel comfortable with, they will have to consider younger candidates who they might not know on a first name basis, for let's face it, women with successful business careers are mainly under 45 years of age.
At this stage the options are stark. We can either sit and wait another 15 years, so until the existing cohort of successful and experienced women age and move in the same social circles as those who appoint boards, or take pre-emptive action to force change now.
My hope is that I will get to see change in my generation and not in my daughter's generation!

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