International Women’s Day is for everyone

On March the 8th we celebrate International Women’s Day. Over the past five years the 30% club In Ireland has been trying to redress the balance on gender diversity not for women but for society and a better Ireland. I am concerned that a topic that should be gaining more traction can still have many detractors with regular refrains such as “its political correctness gone mad” about issues that have nothing to do with political correctness and really damage excellent diversity initiatives and efforts across the country.

There are two things I hear all the time when we talk about gender diversity:

1.   “I’m all for women’s rights but it should be a meritocracy, the best person for the job”. This sounds reasoned but it misses a huge point. Firstly, the comment gives the impression that the two things cannot both be true. More importantly, if we all agree that men and women are generally equal when it comes to academic performance, do we really believe that in the past hundred years it has been a meritocracy? People are never as confident when you ask about statistics from 20 years ago, or you discuss impacts solely on women like the marriage bar. Here is what a true meritocracy would be: we all resign our jobs and reapply for them in open competition – if we did that, that is clearly a meritocracy but I don’t imagine most people would be as keen on this. Therefore, the statement really means that we want a meritocracy from now and not in any way affecting our job!

2.    “Gender Quotas will be unfair on men”. Again, this argument fails to appreciate that it has been unfair on women up to now. Secondly while the topic is divisive, most will appreciate that the most meaningful change has happened in all areas of diversity when there has been temporary quota systems (or targets), just to start to get more of one group into the race. A real challenge with gender quotas that it has lots of unsaid complications. If we introduce quotas, one generation of women may have to endure the comments that they only got there because of their gender. Therefore, even those who do want more balance often feel it is unfair that their career trajectory can get tainted by these inevitable comments.

Like all challenges we need the majority on side to make meaningful change. Please make sure you bring men to events on the 8th March and challenge anyone you hear making throw away comments. Finally ask men to change the word “women” to their mother, daughter, sister when thinking of the issues as it will always make it more personal to them and hopefully urge them into action.

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