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Age-old corporate boys’ club

Let me get one thing out of the way. The issue of how gender quotas work is certainly different to the interpretation given by Tancred Tabone (president of the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry). Merit, experience and achievement will still remain the most important qualifications for any decision-making post. Adding gender to address a deficit in our boardrooms does not eliminate any of the other requisites necessary for people to succeed at a level where competence is of the essence.

... gender quotas on their own will not bring about the desired result
- Helena Dalli

Mr Tabone reportedly told European Commissioner Viviane Reding that “The Malta Chamber believes that merit, experience and achievement should be the most important qualifications for any post and most definitely not gender”.

If anyone was saying that gender is a most important qualification for a board member, he or she would obviously not be taken seriously. But it is certainly not the case. Gender is important so that - in this case - the company benefits from the talents of its best women and men.

Gender quotas are a temporary necessary evil. In most countries where they were introduced in various sectors they have generally proved to be an efficient tool for addressing the informal unequal opportunities and outcomes for women . They are a way to level out the playing field in order that the country can make the best use of its talents and resources. Quotas are done away with once effective equality is established.

Women have been proving themselves for years. Suffice it to look at the 60 per cent women graduates who leave the University every year. However, their commitment is not being translated into effective results for their own self-development, that of their families and country.

Mr Tabone then went on to speak of ‘a natural raise’ in the number of women at the decision-making level in listed companies. To this, Ms Reding replied that without quotas it would be some 50 years before EU states are able to bring parity in the boardroom. That is why we have to be proactive and not simply wait for things to happen. Conscious appointment of a mix of qualified women and men who merit to be at decision-making positions should be a major objective.

Of course, gender quotas on their own will not bring about the desired result. With or without them , there still needs to be a plan of action that will address the issue of childcare and elderly care, flexible working conditions, teleworking, job sharing, time banking, sharing of parental responsibilities, parental and maternity leave, etc…

There also needs to be a change in culture in that we aim to get as close to the symmetrical family model as possible.

Ms Reding referred to the private sector’s argument that there are no women capable to take on such responsibilities, which sounds hollow when European business schools have published a list of 7000 ‘board ready’ women.

Furthermore, companies’ financial performance is consistently being linked to the number of women in their workforce by a growing number of studies.

The EU is trying to put its words into action. Private companies should consider doing the same without being forced into taking such action.

The minister responsible for this area of policy, Chris Said, is reported to have said that quota solutions may not work out as well for Malta as they have in northern Europe due to cultural differences. But this gives us more reason to get moving. Does the minister want Malta to remain a patriarchal backwater, ignoring invaluable talent simply because it belongs to women?

We only have to look at the World Gender Gap Report statistics, where Norway ranks second in the gender equality stakes among 134 countries worldwide and Malta 83rd. With regard to boardrooms in Norway, before the quota was enacted in 2002, 6.8 per cent of corporate leaders were women. Now that number has increased to 34 per cent.

Dr Said goes on to say that quotas will not work here because of issues of accessibility to support structures for working mothers. This is an important field which the government ought to have been working in during so many years in office. The minister’s declaration is an admission of failure in this sector. It is the government’s job to see that there are the necessary support structures and not merely pay lip service to them.

The intransigence on this matter is impressive and maybe IMF managing director Christine Lagarde has a point when she says: “I used to be against quotas; you stand on your own merits and you should be recognised as such. But things are moving too slowly. There will be a lot expected of women simply because there will be resentment on the part of those who will have to make space.”

Dr Dalli is shadow minister for the public service and gender equality.

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