Should women take every advantage offered to them, even if it is on the basis of gender?
Is this fair, equitable and in the line of the values of our society?
March the 8th this year, like every year, was International Womens’ Day. It is a day (usually is preceded by a week) of celebrations and commentary about the status of women in society, how far we have come in affirming womens’ rights and how far we have to go.
In the world of women in technical roles, the role of women and the gender balance is something that is often talked about but remains divisive. Quotas in particular are something that are hotly debated, by men and women alike.
“Are quotas a good thing?” is something young women often ask. “I don’t want to get a job on the basis that I am a woman to even up the gender balance if there is a man that is better than me. I want to know that I am there on merit…right?”
Perhaps. Perhaps however, we should - as some senior women say - just ‘get over it’.
Now this may be a radical view point. Scratch that, it is definitely seen by some as a little crazy. However, it was suggested to me firstly by an unlikely source: a fellow rig-worker.
“Rather than trying to achieve equal numbers in the engineering workforce,” he mused, "why not publicly encourage those girls who want to 'do' engineering that they have the advantage because there are so few of them Vs their male counterparts?”
Curious, I thought. He then elaborated, and essentially said that there are huge advantages for women because of the push to level the playing field.
Why shouldn’t women learn to exploit every offer that could help them, and then show that success to others, he asked. Won’t that success then breed further success?There is a strange logic to such a perspective.
There are also alternative ways of looking at it. Would a man say no to any advantage he was offered because he wanted to be chosen on ‘merit’? Don’t we accept quotas on the cultural diversity side of things? What makes that different?
Clearly, we live in a society where there are discrepancies between the outcomes for men and for women, and not all of these can be pegged to biological differences.
Legislative changes in Australia have been around for a while, so it is safe to say that sometimes making the legal environment conducive to a change will not always guarantee the results expected. Sometimes a little more encouragement is required.
I recently made a lovely acquaintance in the TV make up industry and asked how she got the position. Did she have to apply?
“No,” she laughed and shook her head when I asked. “My dad works in the industry.”
“Oh wow,” I nodded, thinking that made sense. “So it’s all about having the contacts.”
“Yes… but you know what Dad said to me? I can get you in, but I can’t keep you there. You still have to be good.”
There lies the crux of the argument. Quotas, targets, positive discrimination - all of those techniques are about opening the door for people who wouldn’t usually get a look-in due to something they cannot control: their race, their gender, their age. If they aren’t up to scratch, no doubt that will become known and further opportunities won’t be as easily made available. As my new found friend said: the door may be opened for you, but after that it is on you to prove yourself and earn the right to stay.
Furthermore, almost every single person I know who represents some sort of diverse background will work harder simply to prove that they belong in a position, as they know that they, whether they like it or not, are somehow defacto representatives of an entire demographic.
Women have yet to earn the right to be mediocre so to suggest that quotas or targets will mean that less competent people will make it up the top is short-sighted. We as women should also stop underestimating our own capacity, support one another and jump at every open door and opportunity that is made available.
Whether it is a door that is opened by a sponsor or a window opened by a quota, does it really matter? You tell me.