I'm sure you all remember STEM week. Its aim was to encourage women to go into male-dominated, male-oriented career paths, which are a key source of inequality for women in the workplace. It’s well- known that women are proportionately disadvantaged in this area because "women are nurses, not doctors", and when going up against a "strong" or "capable" man for a job, the chances are you’re not the one starting on Monday. One of the aims of the feminist movement is to break these stereotypes and to encourage women and young girls not to let prejudice get in the way of achieving their goals.
One prominent idea is to implement gender quotas. A path designed specifically to widen women’s opportunities sounds too good to be true, right? Well, like many other things, the answer is “maybe”. You may be wondering what I'm talking about, so here’s a little background on the topic: A gender quota is an institutional measure to help improve female representation in the workplace, by making it mandatory to select women solely based on their gender. Gender quotas can be important in achieving greater female representation in the workplace, as they force employers to think outside their usual patterns and actively seek out women who would ordinarily be overlooked, particularly for senior positions. Despite these positive benefits, gender quotas may also carry significant unintended negative consequences that affect both men and women. For example, gender quotas can lead to the issue of tokenism - a belief that women in the workplace were hired only to serve a symbolic purpose, have a lack of capability, and were not hired based on ability. This creates a toxic environment as those women who are promoted under the quota system may be resented by their male counterparts who believe they were passed up for promotion based solely on gender.
As they were hired on a 'quota' and not on their qualifications, there is an expectation that these women will perform poorly or be less qualified and are therefore not deserving of the position, which means quotas are one step forward and two steps back.
The idea that women are appointed strictly to fill a quota and not based on merit or ability is seen as demeaning to both the men and women involved. Even though these women deserve to be there this is a common viewpoint that allows misogynistic ideas to fester and spread, making the workplace uncomfortable for women. It also perpetuates the idea that a woman cannot be as skilled as a man. Furthermore, when we introduce quotas in the workplace, it suggests women don't belong in the workplace and that women should be side-lined; in effect, it undermines the power of having equal representation. They are the aliens in the workplace.
This means that women may have to work harder and harder to prove themselves and to make people believe that they have a place in the workplace.
Quotas place women in a box that needs to be checked, and it's that box that puts women in a strange and contradictory position. Once the quota is filled and the box is checked, people think that they can forget about women. Employers feel that they have done their duty, and then they can pat themselves on the back and act like they've fixed the problem, when in reality they've just pushed it under the rug.
In theory, gender quotas are a great idea, as they give women a chance to level the playing field, but in practice, they disempower women and alienate them in the workplace. So, unless we want to undermine the feminist movement, and reward sexism as well as gender discrimination in the workplace, we cannot implement quotas.