10/21/2013

On Gender Quotas

A couple of days ago (when I started the blog), on showing it around to friends on Facebook, one of the recurring questions I got was what my opinion is about gender quotas.

For those who don't know what gender quotas are:
(Gender quotas) the mandate that women must constitute a certain number or percentage of the members of a body, whether it is a candidate list, a parliamentary assembly, a committee, or a government. - From web definitions on Google


Below is the most thought out of response, which I am going to use to voice my own views on gender quotas. I got it from a contact from whom, to be honest, I didn't expect any less (alright maybe a couple of hundred words less :P). So, when asked what his opinion is about gender quotas, 24 year old Matt Jones answered:

I just want to preface with the fact that everything I’m about to say is purely a critique of the concept of workplace quotas, and it isn’t to say I believe they shouldn’t exist. They’re better than nothing, and it might be the case that they’re just the most effective method for now, all things considered, but based on my knowledge, and talking loosely about general employment in my country, the UK, I suppose this is what I think.

Off the bat I feel like the fact this system of workplace equality is referred to as a quota signifies something problematic. Quotas are bureaucratic, and I feel like bureaucracy is intrinsically the theoretical masquerading as the practical. Quotas risk reducing people to demographics and making a check-list of equality in an attempt to quantify it with the kind of ham-fisted ignorance of a toddler trying to shove a triangle block into a square hole.

I like that there are preventive measures against discrimination, but quotas are a primitive way of enforcing them. I think the fact they’re mandatory inhibits progress towards developing a more accepting culture as well. It’s like a failing company cooking its tax books so that everything seems fine on the surface – so that the statistics read as they are needed to. It eliminates any measurement of the reality.

I always thought that, originally, affirmative action plainly aimed to eliminate prejudice or bias towards anybody from the process of employment, like it was just an anti-discrimination movement and represented a shift in consciousness, but the way it manifests in the UK at least, as obligatory quotas, is contrived.

I suppose quotas ensure that at least a certain number of people that might otherwise be discriminated against aren’t prevented from getting jobs because of it, which is good in that simplistic sense, but only in the same sort of way that donating £100 to Oxfam will buy one tiny village in one tiny part of Africa a well. It doesn’t cure anything. There needs to be a more effective process. It seems like it only gestures towards a position of pro-equality by the ruling class instead of being an effective part of a wider solution too – people are still discriminated against, racism still exists, nothing is equal, but a small percentage of the people those things affect have a job now. What does it mean for the whole, and for the cause overall?

It makes me wonder who it’s most effectively serving – the people it’s meant to in order to usher out bigotry from society, or the ruling class/government, rendering it some hollow political act of conciliation which allows companies to go "we're an equal opportunities company, here, look at all these non-white/non-British/non-heterosexual/non-male people we hired" in the same way somebody trying to prove they're not racist might state "I can't be, I have black friends". Workplace quotas can come off as borderline propaganda and political pandering rather than something that’s eventually valuable to the conquering of discrimination. I don’t necessarily subscribe to this point of view, but I do think it’s a pertinent observation.

I think, and I believe most people think, that everybody should have an equal shot at something providing all else is equal (qualification for the job or whatever), but as a gesture or implication, isn't legislation enforcing it patronising and sort of insulting? There's the fact that the ruling class, and people or privilege, so benevolently handed it down, like they're so self-righteous that they think they have the authority to do that, and personally save all the helpless little non-white/non-British/non-heterosexual/non-male people. Or, in another light, isn't it a bit like someone going "oh, okay, I'll do it with one arm behind my back to give you a fair shot."? It seems condescending, and like it might diminish accomplishments if somebody benefited from it. It’s discrimination to somebody’s benefit, which is sort of like liberal guilt. It doesn't specifically make things fair; it only makes them unjust to a comparable degree, which ends up being more like somebody trying to split a pint into two glasses than an exact science – topping one up, then noting that the other is lower so pouring a little back until the outcome is roughly the same. The individual would only see the immediate detriment or the immediate benefit, rather than the bigger picture the system is predicated on.

It’s possible that I’m completely out of touch, but I feel like in general, most people aren’t racist or intentionally discriminatory, and even less of the people that are are in a position to professionally hold somebody back because of it, which makes me think the mainstream antagonist to equality in the UK is the culturally ingrained, casual ignorance and passive discrimination of people that have lived their life as the non-persecuted default, rather than a concerted resolve to box out certain races/sexualities/sexes/nationalities.

With that in mind, workplace quotas imply that equality can only be achieved through mashing together the respective biases of every culture. It’s cynical, and inverts responsibility. Discrimination – the problem itself – should be addressed, not just matched, and those to blame should be held accountable; they shouldn’t be reluctantly accepted as the reality and then dealt with by altering the context they function in.

I must say that I agree with everything Matt wrote. I do think work quotas are flawed and might not be fully functional (though I also think that we have not given them enough time yet), but that their implementation are a step in the right direction, and it brought gender bias in the workplace into international spotlight, and one thing is certain, when a problem isn't being talked about, it's hard to make change happen.

Thanks Matt, and everyone who engaged in discussions about this topic with me over the weekend, you know who you are ;)

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