Discriminate against quotas

Individualism is key to ending discrimination in the workplace not a quota for women

Old_fashioned_board_room
The only thing striking about this scene any more is the neck ties
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Simon Miller
On 26 October 2012 13:35

Women are obviously feckless, inefficient, incompetent baby-machines that need all the help they can get in the workplace – that is if I’ve read the musings over a quota system for company boards correctly.

This week, the EU commissioner for justice and fundamental rights, Viviane Reding, had to drop her demand for a 40 percent quota of women on directorships. Good, I hate the idea of quotas. From Blair’s babes to Cameron’s “positivity” the idea that you can only get on with a helping hand from the machinery of state law fills me with anger; the idea that you are useless without the state patting you on the head.

I am not talking about negative discrimination, of which there are rightly laws that attempt to prevent this from happening – I’m talking about that favourite of Guardianistas and wooly Islingtonite liberals: positive discrimination.

It is illegal to refuse employment on the basis of age, gender, religion or race so why should it be legal to discriminate in favour of these?

I am probably of the last generation where a mum was also a housewife. A combination of societal changes and economic factors has changed this with dual income households on an ever-increasing rise as cost of living goes up and women demand their own independence. And it is this incremental change that people like Reding cannot see, at least in the UK.

In education, girls lead the way with 8.7 percent gaining an A* compared with 6 percent of boys in this year’s GCSEs. Those with either an A or an A* exceed boys by 6.7 percentage points. As a whole, 73.3 percent of girls gained A* to C compared with 65.4 percent of the opposite sex.

Although boys pulled it back at A-level with 8 percent compared with 7.9 percent for girls, the number of women undergraduates totaled 1,092,315 compared with 820,260 men. Nearly 320,000 women were postgraduates compared with 269,940 men.

So more women are in higher education than men. But what about the workspace?

Surprisingly, and relevant to this quota idea, even in this recession there has been a rise of 6.4 percent of women in managerial or senior official positions compared with a 3.3 percent rise for men between October-December 2007 to October-December 2011. In professional occupations, whilst men have seen a 2.3 percent drop in employment, there has been a 5.7 percent rise for women in this four year period.

Furthermore in associate professional and technical occupations, again women have seen a 5.6 percent rise in employment compared with a 0.8 percent drop for men.

Now, there has been a lot of chatter about female unemployment but at the beginning of this year there had been 2.4 percent fewer men in the workplace compared with 0.05 percent of women. Granted, since 2008 there has been a record level of 1.12m women unemployed but this can be attributed to a relatively large rise of 438,000 in the number of women in the labour market.

Incrementally, societies change and for women as they become better educated, more employable than men, the demand for quotas should disappear.

I know, I can hear the counter-argument already – we need laws to force attitudinal change. But, as David Atherton wrote recently, the drink driving laws were in place since the 70s but it was societal attitudes that changed habits not the law.

Of course nothing is perfect, nothing ever is; we all know people who seem to rise to the top without any discernible skill except a good lunch patter, but change will only happen from within the workplace not without.

Sure we could impose women at the top, but how exactly would that change attitudes? Or would that entrench dated views that women cannot do the job without help?

There is a difference between negative and positive discrimination laws. Negative discrimination laws enable and are at the heart of what every conservative should believe in – the power of each individual to do their job without prejudice. That is true liberalism; that is the true definition of freedom in the workplace - are you any good at your job?

Indeed, there is a business case for more women on boards and executive roles – research suggests that companies with senior women are more profitable – so it is inherent on boards to do their fiduciary duty to shareholders and get the best for the company but that is strictly on a business case rather than some diktat from Europe.

I honestly don’t know anyone nowadays who would not employ someone simply because they were black, female, or a Muslim. Similarly, I don’t know anyone personally that would employ someone on that measure either and that is how it should be.

I want my daughter to be successful and happy in whatever role she decides to do. I want her to win for herself and the efforts that she puts in.

I want her to succeed because she is good at whatever she chooses to do. I want her to win because she is herself, not because someone has patted her on the head and given her position simply because of her gender.

Simon Miller is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator

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