EU gender quotas 'undermine the status of women'

The commission has no business legislating on something women and member states don't want, argues Janice Atkinson.

By Janice Atkinson

10 Dec 2014

The European commission must be one of the world's greatest forces for imposing policies that are not actually wanted. A long list would not be hard to compile, but gender quotas in the boardroom would have to be on anyone's.
We might ask, 'who actually wants to see this happen?' The lazy assumption would be that this is a deeply held demand from female voters. That's often taken for granted in the way quotas are discussed, when the very opposite is true. I can tell you it's certainly not something that you hear on the doorsteps, and pollsters report the same finding in very emphatic numbers.

Across all social breakdowns, all regions of the country, all age categories, and among supporters of all the main parties, YouGov found that voters straightforwardly and comprehensively reject gender quotas. And yes, more women are opposed than not, by no small margin – 51 per cent against to only 30 per cent in favour. One of the few groups in which actual support for quotas could be found - admittedly overwhelmingly - are academic theorists of gender, the metropolitan media, and, of course, the 27,000 -strong bureaucracy of the European commission in Brussels.

"More women are opposed than not, by no small margin – 51 per cent against to only 30 per cent in favour"

We should start from the observation that there is a double illegitimacy in the commission imposition of boardroom quotas. There is the standing illegitimacy of Brussels legislating for Britain, where Westminster has chosen not to do so. But there is also no mandate whatsoever from public opinion on which the EU could fall back even rhetorically for imposing the measure regardless - as they have in any case.
When I think of quotas, though, my mind turns less to the commissioners responsible, than to the women in whose name the decree is made. I think, for example, of the women on the tills at Tesco in my area. Do those ignoring public opinion really imagine that when these women think about their work and their aspirations that they are concerned about gender percentages in the boardroom at Tesco's headquarters in Cheshunt? Or are they thinking about fair and promising opportunities for promotion if they aim to climb the ladder? I can tell you it's the latter.

Corporate policies encouraging women to step forward - if they wish - and demonstrating that they're just as eligible for rising through the ranks, help promote women without patronising them. Placing female directors in the boardroom for their genders over their merits does not merely undermine the status of women executives collectively. It is exactly the type of tokenistic treatment that sends the wrong message to women, who only need a culture of due respect for effort to know that if they work hard for their goals they'll be seen and promoted on equal terms to their peers.

So what's the right way forward? Certainly we need to resist the commission, while working to return power properly to Westminster. Meanwhile, let's get on with what we should be doing anyway. My focus for future female success is education. Results for girls are improving, but from an early age they are choosing subjects less likely to help them towards the top than their male counterparts. UKIP has already said that we want to scrap tuition fees for university courses in science, technology, engineering, and maths - to encourage areas of study that bring rewards to the individual and the country alike. If we are serious about addressing the underrepresentation of women at higher levels of different walks of life, let's drop the myth that quotas are either helpful or wanted, and instead put in place the changes that will encourage the rising female generation not to be put off the subjects that will help them get where they're going.


Share this page