Why quota's won't solve Gender-Equality
All credible solutions that could potentially solve the issue of gender inequality end up one side of the ‘carrot and stick theory’. As a solution, gender-based quotas will inevitably end up being a stick. They create a feeling of resentment and can often prohibit worthy candidates entering their chosen fields simply due to their gender- this is inherently arbitrary as, in the end, the only thing that should matter is a person’s merit.
Admittedly this is a highly idealistic way of seeing the issue. Simply put, meritocracy does not exist in the modern world of the public sector. Nevertheless, pursuing a short-term solution that does not address the underlying issue is in no one’s interest. The reason behind unequal hiring practises is an ingrained culture of sexism that persists within certain hierarchies. The famous ‘Yes Minister’ sketch whereby all the permanent secretaries discuss hiring a woman for a senior role still holds some truth today. In this skit all present state how much they support the idea, but ‘not in their department’ for various contrived reasons.
A change in culture is the only way to truly solve the unequal hiring practises. The main issue with quotas is that they will never change cultural attitudes due to the creation of a feeling of resentment. In theory, quotas can be justified as they take privilege away and give it to disadvantaged groups to achieve equality. Humans, however, are not inherently rational and will inevitably respond with emotion. Having a privilege taken away will feel like marginalisation and will fuel a culture of intolerance within any group. This in turn only prolongs the issues and creates a negative feedback cycle.
In this cycle, those who possess the merit but are denied entry into their chosen profession based only on their gender will not be satisfied with being told that their disadvantage will help others. People after all are individuals and being treated as a block in any negative sense will create a bitter sense of resentment. This resentment can spark up in several forms, both violent and more passive. But nevertheless, no matter what form it takes it will prohibit a change in culture. This in turn creates an indefinite necessity for gender quotas to address gender inequality in hiring practises.
For real life evidence of this look at the marginalisation of African Americans in the United States. Positive discrimination hasn’t increased funding/investment for African American communities, it hasn’t stopped gentrification, nor has it removed institutionalised racism within the US Government and Legal System. It is the ultimate example of how a short-term solution results in a distinct failure to change cultural attitudes.
Any solution that seeks to organically create a change in this culture in hiring practise will inevitably lead to some form of discrimination. However, some forms are far superior to others. Methods such as grants, scholarships and other forms of prioritising resources towards the disadvantaged are superior for the simple reason that they are based on merit. They also open the door way to education.
Education, especially in STEM fields, is a key way of addressing hiring practices as a core reason often cited in certain sectors is a lack of qualifications in female candidates. The Kings ‘Women in Sciences’ scholarship does discriminate against men in the sense that no man can apply for it, but it still requires the applicant to have the skills required to earn a place at Kings in a STEM field. In this sense it acts a positive incentive that allows disadvantaged women who would otherwise be put off pursuing a degree and therefore career in a STEM field without denying the opportunity to a male candidate.
A political demonstration of this in action is the difference in how Labour utilises all-women shortlists for the selection of candidates. In this action it arbitrarily limits the choice of Labour voters based on their geographic area. There is also the argument that it technically violates the sex discrimination act of 1975 as it prevents males from entering a profession based solely on gender.
In the end creating a lasting cultural shift in opinion is about the marathon not the sprint. There is a reason that it is famed suffragist Millicent Fawcett whose statue stands proudly in Parliament square and not Emmeline Pankhurst. One dedicated decades of her life to winning over hearts and minds while the other sought out immediate results through far more radical action, arguably hindering progress. This encapsulates how polarizing short-term solutions can end up doing more to damage progress than they do to help achieve it. Ultimately, societal change that does not occur organically in the public conscious is no real change at all.