Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just gave Canada its first cabinet with an equal number of men and women. For those who cry, “But the selections should be based on merit not on what gender you are!” here’s why giving women 50% of the voices in parliament is a good thing.
Government should represent and reflect the people.
Governments make decisions that affect all of us. Shouldn’t the people weighing in on those decisions reflect the diversity of those living under that government? Around 50% of the population are men yet 70% of NZ parliament is made up of them.
While no two women are the same, there are still issues that may be more relevant to one gender than the other (for example regarding reproductive rights) and it’s important for both genders to be able to have their voices heard on issues that are important to them. With the current gender imbalance in NZ politics, issues that women care about but men don’t may be overlooked. That’s not to say all men, or all men in parliament, don’t care about ‘women’s issues’, however there are things that are not part of their lived experience that they may struggle to relate to and may not see as a big deal, when to many women it may be. This goes both ways, as there are issues men face that women may have little experience with. That’s why there needs to be a balance.
This should also reflect the ethnic diversity of a country too, as minorities too face issues that may not be on the radar for those who have not experienced them firsthand.
I know it may seem tough to try and have a government that represents different regions, sexes, ages, and ethnicities while also being full of people who are amazing at what they do, but it’s worth attempting. Canada is doing pretty well, so why not us?
Diversity is proven to lead to innovation.
When people say that appointments should be based purely on merit, they don’t seem to take into account that there is merit in diversity. It’s good to look at issues through multiple lenses. There is merit in hearing different perspectives alongside the white male ones we predominantly hear. There is merit in representing the diversity of the people.
According to the Havard Business Review, diversity drives innovation: “Leaders who give diverse voices equal airtime are nearly twice as likely as others to unleash value-driving insights, and employees in a “speak up” culture are 3.5 times as likely to contribute their full innovative potential.”
A Forbes study identified “workforce diversity and inclusion as a key driver of internal innovation and business growth”.
Scientific American wrote, “Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups.”
The innovation, insight, and creativity gained from an inclusive and diverse workplace would be just as valuable in parliament. They are making decisions that aim to improve the lives of millions of people and move countries into the future. We need innovative minds on that team and diversity is a good way to get that.
People are qualified in different ways – it’s not black and white “he’s better / she’s better”.
When people complain about quotas to ensure equal representation, they always lament how unfair it is that some poor bloke is going to miss out on a job to make way for someone who isn’t as qualified.
The first problem with this argument is the assumption that out of an entire country of people there aren’t going to be enough suitable women to fill the spots. Everybody just assumes that all of the males we have in parliament were the absolute best person for the job, which implies there are more males in parliament because they were simply better.
In the words of NZ Green party co-leader James Shaw:
“Just because people say they’re hiring on merit doesn’t mean that’s what they’re doing. This idea of hiring on merit is a virtuous aspiration that usually causes more harm than good.
It’s such a noble sentiment that you can’t argue against it but it very rarely happens in the real world. And by pretending that appointments are made based on this aspiration which we continually fail to achieve we’re making things worse.
Take a look at our current Parliament which is seventy percent male. Or Cabinet, which governs the country, also seventy percent male.
No one seriously thinks all those guys are there because they’re the best of the best, or that they’ve all got so much more merit than any female politicians.
The reality is that it’s a traditionally male institution.
There were legal and social barriers preventing women from entering. And those overt barriers are gone but many subtle barriers remain.
That means that a lot of the guys running the country aren’t there purely because of merit. There are candidates for many of those positions who have more merit, who could do a better job, but they didn’t get appointed because they’re women.
To those who say we shouldn’t make appointments based on gender, I say, that’s what we’re already doing. Everybody just pretends that it isn’t.”
We need to stop living in the “ideal” world where everybody has an equal chance and the best people get the job – which just happens to be men 70% of the time – and start living in the real world where we value equal representation and prove it with our actions.
Men in parliament are rarely questioned on their merit, yet mention bringing in more women and people question their merit. The former Canadian government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper had a climate change denier as Minister of the Environment; he was clearly the best possible person for that position! They also had a man who moved from Immigration, to Multiculturalism, to Social Development, to National Defence. He must have been the absolute best person for all of those positions too! It’s amazing!
New Zealand’s Minister of Science and Innovation, Steven Joyce, has no background in science whatsoever. Clearly there was no woman out there who could have done as good a job as him! We clearly have a totally fair system where the best person always gets the job!
The second problem with this argument is how do we measure merit? The characteristics society tends to think of as being merit-worthy in political leaders turn out to be the characteristics we tend to associate with men. A study showed that “gender-based stereotyping persists in the workplace. This stereotyping can misrepresent the true talents of women leaders, potentially undermining women’s leadership and posing serious challenges to their career advancement.”
Also there is no black and white answer for what makes a perfect candidate: people have strengths in different areas. It’s incredibly unlikely that there will be two people with identical backgrounds and qualifications going for the job. Everyone will bring a different set of experiences and qualifications with them.
The guy with a Master’s degree and experience working in politics may not necessarily be a better candidate for Minister of Education than the guy who has been teaching for twenty years but hasn’t worked in politics. If one person gets a job over another, they were likely more skilled in some areas, and less skilled in others. It’s about weighing up where they will fit in best and what skills are needed in the team.
It’s also unlikely that a man with a wonderful reputation, a PHD, and years of political experience is going to miss out on a position to a woman with no experience or qualifications who just walked up off the street and got the job to fill a quota. There are plenty of qualified and capable women out there who will do a great job, and like I said above, the fact that they are women brings advantages in itself. As Deborah Frussell writes: “It seems highly implausible that there is only one potentially good candidate in each electorate, or only one person who could be an excellent representative in parliament. It’s much more likely that there might be several people who could be excellent, and it’s a matter of choosing between several qualified candidates. Once candidates have demonstrated that they are good enough, or excellent enough, then we just need to choose one from among them.” Once we get to this point, why not gain some of the advantages of having gender equality and pick the woman amongst them?
At the end of the day, diversity is a merit.
The third problem with this argument is that in a meritocracy, the privileged are more likely to be in a position where they are considered to have merit. As Ben Bernanke said, “A meritocracy is a system in which the people who are the luckiest in their health and genetic endowment; luckiest in terms of family support, encouragement, and, probably, income; luckiest in their educational and career opportunities; and luckiest in so many other ways difficult to enumerate — these are the folks who reap the largest rewards.” Sure, everyone loves the story of the politician who came from nothing and turned their life around, but far more common is the person who never made it because of hardship or a lack of opportunity.
Women have been discouraged from succeeding in politics in sometimes overt and sometimes subtle ways. Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard experienced a lot of sexism. A study showed that, “For women who hold traditional gender values – those who think that women should be modest, place their families before themselves and put a lot of importance in taking care of their home and their physical appearance – being reminded of Julia Gillard’s experiences made them want to avoid politics”.
Men also have the privilege of having many male role models in politics and leadership positions whom they can aspire to be like. From the same study: “International research shows that women in countries with more women politicians display greater interest in politics than women from countries with lower female representation.”
One of the benefits of a quota means more role models for women, and thus more women seeing politics as a viable option. The more women going into politics, the more capable, experienced female candidates we have to choose from when electing cabinet ministers. While there may possibly be a dip in perceived merit in the short term, it will pay off in the long term.
Finally, did you see how awesome the women on Trudeau’s cabinet are?
Clearly having 50% women didn’t stop him putting together a kickass team.
The Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan is a medical geographer and former professor at the University of Windsor and University of Toronto. She served on the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The Minister of Health Jane Philpott is a doctor who has worked as chief of the Department of Family Medicine at Markham Stouffville Hospital, is an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Family and Community medicine, and has worked in Niger helping develop a training programme for local health workers. She also founded an AID’s foundation which has raised $4 million for people affected by HIV / AIDS in Africa.
The Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould is a former crown prosecutor and former Assembly of First Nations chief who has made numerous appearances before parliament to talk about aboriginal issues.
The Minister of Sports and Persons with Disabilities Carla Qualtrough is a lawyer by training. She has a background in human rights, inclusion and sport. She has worked as the vice-chair of the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal of B.C. and legal counsel for the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission. She competed in the 1988 Seoul and 1992 Barcelona Paralympic Games, winning three medals in swimming. She remains involved in the world of sport, serving for four years as the president of the Canadian Paralympic Committee.
The Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland is a former journalist and international trade critic for the Liberal party who has degrees from Oxford and Harvard and speaks five languages.
The Minister of Environment and climate change Catherine McKenna is an International Trade Lawyer and former legal adviser to the negotiator for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in East Timor. She is also a board member at the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies and has taught at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.
The Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef is a graduate of Trent University and has been a member of more than 30 community-based action committees in Peterborough. Her family fled the Taliban in Afghanistan when she was eleven. She co-founded the Red Pashmina Campaign, which raised over $150,000 for women and girls in Afghanistan.
The rest of the women and men are equally awesome by the sound of it. Check them out here:
To those who say we should fix all the barriers to women entering politics instead of using a quota
In Deborah’s words again: “It will take too long. Women don’t want equal representation in 20 years time, when some fixes have been put in place. It needs to happen now. The long slow fix of using the list and fixing childcare and amending sitting rules in the House is just too damned long. That’s why, much as I would prefer not to, I think that the time has come for quotas.”
The longer we take to get equal representation the longer we are missing out on the innovation a diverse cabinet brings, and the role models for our future leaders.