On Monday, editor of British Vogue
Alexandra Shulman spoke out against giving women a leg up the career ladder and into the boardroom.
She was discussing the new directive from the European Union that states, by 2020, 40% of senior boardroom positions will have to belong to women.
“While I like the idea of women running businesses, there’s something nauseating about the sound of this initiative,” Shulman wrote
in an opinion piece for The Daily Mail
“Doesn’t this just turn us into a needy underclass unable to prosper on an equal footing with our male counterparts?”
While her comments originally had the feminist in me clasping hands to mouth in shock – aren’t quotas supposed to be a good thing?! – Shulman actually raises a good point. She’s a big supporter of women in business and senior roles, but she’s just not sure that forcing them there is the best way to go about it.
And she’s not the only one. Quotas are a tangled and controversial issue, and this isn’t the first time I’ve heard a high profile woman speak out against them.
Many believe they spit water in the face of the best person for the job and force managers to hire women who may be too lazy or unskilled to meet the task.
People also believe it’s offensive to women who would feel they hadn’t earned their spot in a company. I mean if they were actually suited to the job, we wouldn’t have to force people to give it to them, would we?
Then there’s the whole idea that women might not be filling these roles because they don’t want to, not because they can’t – Shulman mentions that the current work environment is so inflexible that women who also want a family struggle to work a high-powered job.
On the other hand, the pro-quota argument is clear – despite the fact that the number of female professionals is quickly growing, only 12.3% of directorships in the Australian Stock Exchange’s top 200 companies (ASX200) are held by women.
I personally feel (and I’m in no way an expert) that quotas, used correctly, could work.
While the percentage of women on ASX200 boards this year is still low, it was a 4% increase from 2010 – something that is often credited to a new rule in 2011 that required all publicly listed companies to set their own targets for the number of women they would like at senior executive level.
It wasn't a quota, but just setting a goal seems to have worked.
I also believe that, unless young girls grow up seeing women running companies, it’s never really going to be a career they feel is in their reach. While quotas aren’t perfect, at least for a few years they’ll have women filling up senior roles and becoming inspirations for a new generation who won't need that leg up.
But what I think really needs to change is the expectation that women should still be the primary house-organiser.
A lot of the male comments on Shulman’s story negatively referenced a comment she made about women at work being forced to whisper down the phone whenever they talk to their sick children or about domestic issues. “That’s because you are at work. Work is where you go to get work done and earn money, your kids are irrelevant,” said one commenter.
What about the fact that women who work the same amount as their male partners are doing on average an hour more domestic work than men each day? And that women are still expected to be the primary caregivers?
For example, my friend who recently returned from maternity leave is constantly asked “Are you missing your daughter? Do you wish you were at home?” while new father’s kids aren’t ever brought up.
Their wives pop a baby out and a few weeks later they flick a little vomit off their shoulder and march back into the boardroom like nothing ever happened.
Perhaps if men really stepped up and started picking up the kids from school half the time, cooking half the meals, doing equal amounts of grocery shopping and meal planning, washing and ironing half the clothes, playing with the children half the time and generally just took responsibility for their house a little more, then women might have some more time to chase and actually excel in senior roles.
Because right now I feel like quotas are not only going to result in the best person for the job being potentially overlooked, but they’ll be sticking women in jobs that they can’t possibly maintain properly while trying to manage a family.
That’s just my opinion though, I’d love to hear your thoughts on quotas and women at work and home. Fiona MacDonald is a features writer with madison who has no children and no husband but still doesn’t have enough hours in the day to sleep, eat exercise, see friends and do her job – she has no idea how anyone else copes, let alone parents.