Women, Quotas and Affirmative Action

Yesterday was International Women’s Day and one of the sillier things said in relation to it came from someone who should have known better. I refer to Liberal heavyweight Joe Hockey and his comments about quotas for women. He said on Monday night’s Q&A that there should be a 30 per cent quota for women as board directors.

He decried the fact that women make up 11 per cent of boards of ASX 200 companies, and said if this target is not achieved by companies themselves by 2015, then quotas should be put in place. Fortunately other Liberal leaders quickly distanced themselves from such foolish ideas.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said, ”I’ve always been cool on quotas … If women are given the chance to show their abilities they will get places on their merits.” And deputy leader Julie Bishop remarked, ”It would not make sense to impose a compulsory quota for female representation on company boards when the Liberal Party does not have a quota for female representation.”

The idea of imposing quotas is part of a larger move of government-led social reorganisation known as affirmative action. The idea was first developed in America in the 1960s, and was meant to help minorities gain equal standing in various areas.


While leftist governments have long championed such programs, conservative voices have pointed out their many shortcomings. Indeed, entire volumes have been written pointing out the inherent flaws of affirmative action programs, preferential treatment and quota systems, and related efforts at social coercion.

Black economist Thomas Sowell has penned dozens of volumes on these themes, including his important 2005 book, Affirmative Action Around the World (Yale University Press). Much of what he has to say on this topic centres on race, but his thoughts are also applicable to gender as well.

But many women have written about gender-based affirmative action programs and quota systems. Let me cite a few here. Jessica Gavora wrote an important book on this in 2002. Let me quote from an earlier review I did of this volume:

And with many affirmative action programs, it demanded not just equality of opportunity, but equality of outcome as well. And when unequals are treated equally, or are mandated to have equal outcomes, then real inequality results. New discrimination and inequality came into play. Boys and men, and boy’s and men’s programs, especially in sports, were the real casualty. Many male sports programs and activities were axed or cut back in funding, in order to get the 50-50 mix.

But it went even further, and Gavora documents the many heart breaking cases. For example, one University was not content with the 50-50 mix in athletics’ spending and programs, but insisted it be 53-47, since 53% of the student body was female.

And it was not just males and male programs that suffered. Females also suffered. For example, if a girl really preferred to be a cheer leader instead of a football halfback, she often found her desires frustrated, with the gender equity police insisting that females not take on what they perceived to be traditional female roles.

A regime of androgyny, in other words, was enforced by the gender benders, regardless of whether it was in the best interests of all concerned. Thus tax payers subsidised a system which was often out of kilter with the biological realities of those involved.

The feminists insisted that male-female differences are only social constructs, not something rooted in our very nature. They insisted that the sexes are identical in their interests and abilities. And they insisted that such parity be fully represented in our schools, even in our sports, with the full force of the law brought to bear on those who do not comply.

Guided by these stubborn, and often irrational, convictions, they insisted that if a school has 33 boys playing soccer, then 33 girls should be playing it as well. They insisted that if males are over-represented in advanced maths and sciences, then this ‘obvious injustice’ must be remedied by force of law. Never mind that there may in fact be good reasons why such iniquities exist. Never mind that males tend to prefer sport more than females. Never mind that boys may be hotwired by nature to excel in science while doing poorer in other academic subjects.

Other women have written on these topics. Phyllis Schlafly has a number of books devoted to this. She offered seven reasons why affirmative action is wrong in a major 1987 article. Her first two reasons are worth citing: First, “the woman receiving the benefit is not a woman who was ever discriminated against. The benefits are not targeted for the victims. Nobody should be entitled to receive a remedy for any injury suffered by someone else.”

Second, “it is based on a theory of group rights as opposed to the American tradition of individual rights. Women are not a monolithic, cohesive group in which a grievance suffered by one woman should translate into a right or a remedy granted to another woman.”

Or consider the so-called glass ceiling. Says Schlafly, “Just because there is a small percentage of women in senior management does not prove discrimination. It proves instead that the majority of women have made other choices – usually family choices – rather than devoting themselves to the corporate world for sixty to eighty hours a week.”

F. Carolyn Graglia’s valuable 1998 treatise on feminism also speaks to this. Graglia, a lawyer by training but housewife by choice, says she never encountered any opposition to her rise in the marketplace. She reminds us that Betty Friedan wrote back in the early 1960s that women in fact chose to eschew careers in favour of family life.

She cites many other feminists who grudgingly admit that it is mainly personal choice, not some inbuilt discrimination, which is keeping many women out of the top jobs and major boardrooms. Despite a half century of the feminist war against homemaking and motherhood, many women still simply prefer those options, and don’t want to be told their only fulfilment comes in the paid workplace.

And quotas and preferential treatment do nothing to help women. Instead of knowing they have achieved a position or placement due to merit, they will just wonder if they are filling a quota. As Kathryn Crosby puts it: “Quotas suck. Women will only be equal when there isn’t an artificial incentive for women to be promoted. If management staffing decisions are made with a frame of ‘we don’t have enough women so we should pick a woman’ then how can a woman ever be respected in that position? If quotas exist, how will women ever be considered worthy of their roles, deserving of them and equal to the task, rather than equal to the quota?”

Carrie Lukas agrees. In her helpful 2006 book on feminism she says, “Affirmative action creates an environment in which people wonder if these women truly earned their success or if they merely rose to the top of a rigged game. . . . Embracing affirmative action institutionalizes a far more damaging form of sexism: the official recognition of an assumption of female inferiority. Feminist groups make a grievous error when they pursue government-mandated advantages; true feminism means trusting that women can compete and succeed on their own.”

Or as Judith Sloan writes in today’s Australian: “While there is doubtless some support for quotas among some female directors, many others object to the confusion that would arise should their appointments be seen as filling a quota rather than being made on the basis of merit. Their argument is that feminism is about the equal treatment of men and women, not the elimination of merit-based appointments. I fit into this camp.

“There is also a strange fixation in this debate about representation at the board level. After all, it’s the managers who actually run companies. If power and influence are the real concerns, then the low representation of women in senior management positions is much more significant than in board positions. My assessment is that the impediments to women taking on senior executive positions are much greater than is the case for directorships.

“Many of these senior roles are inevitably 24/7 and are simply incompatible with rearing small children. Some women look through that glass ceiling and conclude that it is not for them. Of course, management structures in most companies are pyramidal and there are relatively few senior executive jobs.

“So only a relatively few ambitious women are needed to improve the representation of women at the top. Companies are well-advised to identify and remove any unnecessary barriers to female participation in senior roles. But they don’t need the government either to tell them to do so or, worse, to regulate outcomes.”

Sorry Joe, but you are dead wrong on your call for mandatory quotas. And plenty of women know you are wrong as well.


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22 Replies to “Women, Quotas and Affirmative Action”

  1. What was Hockey thinking? Quentin Bryce got in on the act as well, ‘I support quotas, things must change’ she demanded. Lets see, we have a female PM, boyfriend, no kids; she has the time for the top job, 24/7. The GG’s kids are well of her hands, did she have a nanny when she was a Lawyer? It’s a brave new world for women, because when they achieved ‘work success’ many of them pine for Motherhood….can you have both? I think, only a few can, but I’m a white anglo-saxon, Christian dinosaur – the WASP feminists hate!
    Neil Innes

  2. Yes I was very annoyed that Hockey had fallen in for this symbolism.

    Incidentally, half way through Warren Farrell’s Father and Child Reunion: How to Bring the Dads We Need to the Children We Love. Terrific work that has inspired me to be a better father to my 14 month old daughter. He thoroughly demolishes the pap that men aren’t important in raising a child.

    Facts that even surprised me were that mothers were more likely to abuse, neglect or even kill their children than men. Also, a victim of abuse is more likely to be a boy than a girl.

    Damien Spillane

  3. Feminists are hypocrites….

    They wish to grade womens’ achievement according to a masculine measure of success (i.e. how high up the corporate ladder you can climb). Thus they are asserting that masculinity is superior and subjugating women to the masculine ideal — exactly the opposite of what they claim to believe in.

    Jereth Kok

  4. I heard a quote on the radio (slight paraphrase) “Of those on company boards 11% are women, which means there MUST be discrimination because I do not believe women are that unqualified” – this was an invited speaker on a AM talkback show. This is the logic you have to deal with!
    My work now is dominated by women, some of them really are that unqualified 🙂
    This woman is going on a blind irrational belief – much like (seemingly) many of the radical feminists.
    Joshua Ferrara

  5. Affirmative Action – the art of giving jobs to people who do not necessarily display the ability to do them!
    Steve Davis

  6. Clearly this is neat, vintage, cultural Marxism that has now got its grip on Western governments and institutions. You divide society up into victim groups, those with a grudge, those who feel hard done by. And this is pretty easy; for we can all be encouraged to complain, murmur and feel that we have been dealt a bad hand. We can all be encouraged to shake the fist at God.

    (Sir) Ian McKellen, actor, founder and ambassador of the gay pressure group, Stonewall, has been going into schools in Britain, stirring up mutiny and sedition amongst the children. Under cover of trying to tackle homophobic bullying, he invites children to put their hands up if they feel part of a minority group. “Hands up all those who are left – handed, short, tall, fat, freckled, ginger haired, black, knock- need, deaf, Muslim, intellectually challenged, or children of one parent families. “There you see,” he slyly says,” You are all part of a minority group.”

    What he doesn’t tell the kids is that there is no one sitting around the table of Equality and Human Commission, championing the left-handed, short, ginger-haired and lisping. Out of the increasing growing list of protected characteristics of 1. Age. 2. Race. 3. Disability. 4. Religion (Islam and not Christianity) 5.Sexual Orientation. 6. Transsexual and Transgender change. 7. Being pregnant (that now includes trans men who have babies because they still retain the reproductive bits) and 8.Gender (feminist women) there is no one protecting the rights of the unborn or children. Christianity in Britain has been removed, though it might still remains on paper because someone has forgotten to take it off. Those whose rights are inviolate are gays, black Marxists, feminists, Muslims and criminals in prison.

    What is most profoundly worrying is how the “UIs,” or the Useful Idoits, as Lenin called them, as clearly demonstrated in this new clip, have completely swallowed gay propaganda without it even touching the sides of the throat.
    David Skinner, UK

  7. I telephoned the Headmaster in the BBC News Clip to see if he had identified the 72 gay students whom he said must be in his school. After all he has a duty of care to those with special needs. “No” was the answer.

    David Skinner, UK

  8. Should we stop separating the genders for track and field and swimming events. And then mandate that women win half of the medals? There are reasons men and women don’t compete athletically.

    There are reasons why women are general more suited to child rearing and men to bread winning. For a women to get to the top of the career ladder she has to be childless or have someone else raising her children. A women caring for children simply doesn’t have the time, or may I say, the drive to be a top executive.

    I am glad for some of the things the early feminists worked for such as votes for women and equal education opportunities with males but I also feel that modern feminists sell women short, putting them under pressure to succeed in the workforce while raising children, and undervaluing the role of motherhood when compared to a “real” job.

    Our educational system now prepares women to be career minded not family minded and to pursue maths, science and business careers. School teaches kids to find their identity in their grade and then in their employment instead of finding our identity in who we are. Women are not generally taught mothering skills and have to learn on the job.

    Kylie Anderson

  9. I wish there were some affirmative action in the pulpits of the land, where only those who are competent do the preaching.

    Spencer Gear

  10. Great write-up, Bill, and thanks for linking previous articles on the topic

    Great comments Jereth & Spencer

    As a woman who worked in IT, I can attest that some of the discrimination is quite real. It’s somewhat frustrating to have to repeat three times that you ARE the IT person and that your (male) boss doesn’t know the answer. As other people have pointed out, “affirmative action” just makes this worse – providing the convenient assumption that you’re only there for the numbers.

    At the same time, I’m currently staying at home, and the pressure and expectation from the people I knew from work and study isn’t whether I will return to work, it’s how many months until I do. I thought the point of feminism was choice. Choice to stay home – at least for longer than popular opinion says – counts, doesn’t it?

    Alison Keen

  11. Affirmative action in the Pulpits I’ll go along with that.

    There are a million answers one can make to this whole equality thing but the one that we need to accept is that we are all equal but different.
    In New York some years ago the city didn’t have enough money to pay its staff. However those at the top were still paid along with most of the higher echelon bureaucrats. The people who weren’t paid were the Garbo’s (their term not mine). Eventually having not been paid for several weeks the “Garbo’s” decided to strike.
    As a consequence and in a very short time the city of New York began to stink. It was then that it dawned on the city council that the “Garbo’s” I.e. the Refuse Disposal Experts were by far the most important people in their employ and they weren’t even being paid. Once this situation was recognised and resolved the RDE’s returned to work and cleaned up the city.
    Again in this current age where money or perceived stigma determines rank we can go from skilled Telstra Technician to dole bludger in usually less than six weeks.
    The feminist beguiled by her rising status dresses smartly (often provocatively), is generally well paid whilst the wife and mother bringing up the family effectively remains unpaid and often has that same stigma of being worthless in the eyes of most of her own gender. For the woman it can be a very difficult choice to sacrifice the illusion of progress and aggrandisement for the often perceived worthlessness of building a loving home. However when they do they generally become a much stronger self assured and more complete feminine woman than the feminist will ever be.
    In consequence and in a more perfect society the one answer which could counter all this feminist antagonism towards the family manager is the one on which the feminist constantly relies when assessing another’s societal worth and that is money.
    Lets face it when good women choose the family they generally save the rest of us one heap of money by bringing stability and a generally better person into the next generation.
    In that regard and if we had any social sense, those who choose that option should be paid and paid well, specifically in light of the extreme benefits that flow on to the rest of us.
    Dennis Newland

  12. Joe “I’m in the wrong party” Hockey was not above dishonest straw man (or should I say “straw person”) argument, a typical device of leftard demagogues:

    I just don’t understand how you can claim as a director of a company that all wisdom and knowledge lies in the hands of men only.

    Of course, no director claims anything like this.

    But the bottom line is: it’s no-one’s business who is on a company board but the company’s owners/shareholders.

    Jonathan Sarfati, US

  13. Poor old Joe Hockey, he’s in the wrong party and to think this fellow has aspirations of becoming prime minister. That would mean we’d have the choice at election time between Green/Labor strong and Green/Labor light & light headed I might add. Also, as far as quotas are concerned, a much larger percentage of women, rather than men, would not have the ambition to become a political target in the limelight every day. I know of a number of women who have performed well publicly. On the other hand, we have made the effort of a more than generous experiment with quotas. We’ve had Carmen Lawrence, Joan Kirner, Anna Bligh, Kristine Keneally, Julia Gillard (Present adviser to Obama) and the current Governor General, who recently wasted a six figure sum on flowers to decorate her home and work place. What a sorry lot.
    Frank Bellet, Petrie Qld.

  14. When considering feminism and what has been gained, we should also consider what has been lost. You know, Einstein’s equal and opposite reaction.
    For example, did female sufferage gain for women or lose for families? It can be seen that ‘Male only’ sufferage was, rather, voting as a family unit / family economy. Did the gain for women’s identity, so it is claimed, actually cost a reduction in the value of the family unit?
    Similarly, what is the cost / opposite reaction of these affirmative action programs?
    Jeremy Peet

  15. I may be a working woman now, but once I get married and have children the last thing I want to be doing is pushing for a career. Isn’t raising a family enough work as it is?!? I know plenty of women think like I do, and more would stay out of the workplace altogether if they believed they could afford to.

    But no woman with a family really wants to spend as much time and energy as is required for those jobs on a career while she has children at home.

    I wish the far-lefters would leave us alone to make our own choices like they say they are promoting! All they do is make life harder for the rest of us.

    Felicity Rachael

  16. Felicity, I soooo hear you! I have been thinking for awhile now, why are there so many women with depression? And the answer to that,is stress is what triggers it. Feminism has put women into such a difficult position that so much is expected of them that so many are crashing and burning. As Felicity says, leave us alone and let us make our own choices. Myself as a businessman, I employ anyone who is up to the job – male or female. It makes perfect business sense.
    Paul Hotchkin

  17. I actually think society regards Men in a dim light now and there’s more, with the single parent epidemic and boys been raised by women and bless them, because they do a wonderful job, given the tools they’ve got.
    An international Men day?
    Also, its a insult to women this quotas baloney – wouldn’t they prefer to be selected due to their performance-attributes-attitude?
    Daniel Kempton

  18. You only have to flick through a site like RSVP to see women in their late 30s to late 40s, saying, I want kids, on their profiles. I hope for some of them they haven’t left it too late.
    Many state that they are contented in their careers as well. Makes you wonder if they have swallowed the feminist line to put motherhood to one side.

    Jeffrey Carl

  19. I’ve always protested that equal is not the same as identical. Affirmative action does imply the recipient needs help. In some places that might be true and in the future may be in Aust if rules are changed to allow multiple wives. Pity the unwanted one or the one who cannot hold down a top job and raise her children
    It is interesting that child allowance was once to make up extra income as a basic wage allowed for a man his wife and one child. Now people want wage plus allowances plus pay whilst not working. Tough for the unequal state of those who work at a special skill ie child raising
    Katherine Fishley

  20. Spencer and Bill
    If you don’t like the preaching and cannot change it you can vote with your feet. If you don’t like anybodies preaching then you have a problem. However if you find a church that ticks most of the boxes then encourage the preacher.
    Katherine Fishley

  21. Are there really votes in this debate? Now they want females to compete against males in the woodchop event at Sydney’s Royal Easter show, when will they have females competing with males in boxing and wrestling? There are even Govt. advertised positions vacant that require the applicant be female, why when the job is administration or Law practicioner? Look what’s happened in the NSW Police force, females are not allowed to patrol alone but males are, why then are we paying two people to do what one can??
    John Archer

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