The quest for gender parity – in government, business and the arts – has long been a goal of the feminist movement. With 50% of the population, why shouldn’t women have 50% of the leadership positions in society? Why indeed? It seems like an obvious goal for those who are interested in a just and equal society but, as we know, there are a fair number of people who don’t believe in either justice or equality – though they often go to great lengths to couch their agenda in less ugly terms.
Gender parity also addresses another big social justice issue – income inequality. If women have more and better jobs, their incomes that generally trail those of men will improve leading to less inequality especially for single-parent families which are mostly women-headed. And less inequality is not only good for individuals it is good for society.
But the goal of 50/50 whether in 2020 or sooner (better than later) is not simply a matter of social justice, it makes perfect sense from a whole lot of perspectives. Numerous studies have shown that organizations that have achieved gender parity in leadership roles not only make different decisions but better ones. And they make them with less conflict and fewer ‘status’ wars. Corporations that increase the number of women in the board room have statistically significant better profit margins. That’s why some governments – with an eye on national GDPs – have mandated increases to women in the boardroom.
Quite apart from the internal values of increased opportunities for women in the corporate world, it is clear that leadership in government is also changing the focus of numerous policies. It is not that ‘women’s’ issues have come to the forefront but there has been a realization that every activity of government – from supporting business to the military to health care – impacts and involves women.
There is still a long way to go. While the federal bureaucracy has largely achieved gender parity in most leadership roles, the failure of our system to support women in politics has meant that the one area where women still lag is in Parliament and legislatures. Many other countries – including Saudi Arabia of all places – have placed more women into elected offices (though to be fair they are given little power when they get there). Kim Campbell has proposed an interesting solution for Canada: two member constituencies where one seat is reserved for men and the other for women. While two member constituencies used to be the norm in PEI (for religious reasons initially), Campbell’s idea is a radical departure.
But why not? Those who oppose radical solutions are usually those who don’t see or want to recognize the problem in the first place.
Progress is never as quick as we might like but it can occur if we constantly keep our eye on the prize. While most of us have little control over corporate boardrooms or government bureaucracies, we can do our bit by voting or working for women candidates, patronizing women run businesses and going to art galleries or theatres showing the work of women.
You can almost certainly be sure of a good experience – because given the struggles that women have had to get into those positions, you can bet their work is exceptional. See, even inequality has an upside. Not.
But that’s ten minutes. Thanks to Caroline Russell-King for the suggestion.