Workplace gender quotas are an insult to women

Emily Dinsmore

Topics Brexit Politics

Five years on from the European Commission’s failed attempt to boost the number of women on company boards, it has again announced proposed legislation, which if implemented, would lead to the introduction of gender-quotas for company boards.

The commission tried to introduce gender-quota legislation back in 2012, with a proposal that 40 per cent of non-executive board positions at publicly listed companies must be occupied by women. The legislation was not received well. Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden rejected the law arguing that Brussels was intruding into domestic affairs, while according to one report, Hungary and Poland rejected it on ‘ideological’ grounds.

The commission’s latest proposal echoes this previous, unpopular attempt to get women into top jobs. But this time, the legislation will propose that companies whose non-executive directors are over 60 per cent male will be required to prioritise women when considering candidates of equal merit for director posts.

It is a typically and, in this case, ironically paternalistic piece of EU legislation, and, therefore, an affront to any woman who takes her autonomy seriously. In the UK, for example, women face few actual barriers when it comes to education and employment – more women than men study at university, and women under the age of 45, when taking hours and type of employment into account, earn the same as men. And, of course, actual discrimination on the basis of gender is illegal, so women who seek high-paying, top-jobs are already at no disadvantage to their male counterparts.

But what this legislation suggests is that the only way women can become company directors is thanks to the helping hand of the European Commission. This does down women, rather than lift them up. If women aren’t taking up top positions in companies, it is not because they are being held back educationally or professionally.

Indeed, if there is an issue, it is to be found in the arena of child care, where women are still expected to take responsibility for childrearing. So, maybe, instead of thinly veiled insults about our womanly ability to secure top positions, we should be asking questions about how better to balance professional and family life for working women and men.

Quotas to redress gender-balance in companies are antithetical to the idea of women’s liberation, especially at a time when women are doing better than ever before in professional and public life. I cannot imagine anything quite as insulting as knowing I was hired for the job on the basis of my genitals, rather than my credentials. We don’t need a leg-up, least of all patronising quotas, to succeed in the workplace.

Emily Dinsmore is a writer.

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Topics Brexit Politics


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