This article was first published on The Malta Independent. You can view it here.
My most favourite part of campaigning for the next MEP elections in May, is meeting people and having constructive discussions with them. One of the discussions that keeps coming up at every corner is why I am in favour of introducing temporary quotas to readdress the imbalance between men and women in politics and in the boardroom.
People from all walks of life seem to be under the impression that gender equality has been achieved. Now that women have the same legal rights as men, and that gender discrimination at the workplace is against the law, many don’t see why we continue to argue that gender equality has not yet been achieved.
Whilst I respect everyone’s opinions, I do prefer facts, and evidence from ample research has shown very clearly that gender equality has not been achieved at all, not even in the most Westernized and advanced societies.
There’s plenty of research and experiments that show that prejudice against women is still widespread. For example, an experiment conducted in 2014 by PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA) proves beyond doubt m that investors prefer entrepreneurial ventures pitched by men over those submitted by women
In this experiment, random participants were presented with a business proposal with a male or female narrating, an otherwise identical proposal. When a male voice presented the business venture, 68% thought it was worthy of funding. When the same proposal was narrated by a female voice the figure went down to 32%.
In another experiment participants had to rate applicants for the position of laboratory manager. The applications where identical except for the gender of the applicant. Lo and behold, ‘John’ was always rated as more capable and even more hireable than ‘Jennifer’, leading participants to offer ‘John’ a higher starting salary.
Such experiments have had the same results even when conducted with children. In another study children were asked to guess the gender of a ‘really, really smart’ character in a story. Regardless of their own gender, the majority of the children, assumed that the character was male.
This evidence proves that women face prejudice and disadvantages because men are perceived to be more generally capable despite any evidence to prove this.
Equality Vs Fairness
Equality does not mean that everyone is to be treated exactly the same. Let’s face it, some biological differences do warrant different treatments. For example leave related to pregnancy and birth will only ever be required by females. In such cases what we should be after is not equal treatment but fair treatment. When women and girls are at a disadvantage because of our irrational bias, then I do believe that affirmative action, such as temporary quotas aimed at increasing female representation is necessary. Two such scenarios are in politics and in the boardroom. Today just 10 of Malta’s 67 members of parliament are women. Without quotas it will take 20 to 40 years for women to break through the societal structures that make it particularly hard for women to enter into politics. Similarly, jobs dominated by women, like those in education and health, may benefit from temporary measures to ensure equal access by men.
Why Temporary Quotas?
If it were possible to change people’s prejudices and irrational biases in any other way, I would not be in favour of quotas or any form of positive action. But, after researching the subject and living in this reality for so long, I have come to the conclusion that without temporary quotas at least in politics and the boardroom, we will never achieve gender equality, at least not in my lifetime.
Having equal rights by law is not enough. In today’s world inequality lives in our thoughts and the only way we can get rid of it is by putting capable women in positions where they can prove our prejudices and biases wrong. Once these unfair prejudices are history, we will have no need for quotas anymore, hence the temporary nature of the quotas I’m in favour of.
Dr Roselyn Borg Knight, PN MEP Candidate – May 2019