Urgent need for gender quotas in Morrison government

The time has come for Australia's Prime Minister to introduce gender quotas in Parliament and take action in support of equality.

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Call them targets, or call them quotas – the time has come for Scott Morrison to set a clear goal for gender diversity in Federal Parliament.

Australia has an opportunity to act to support gender equality in this country by acknowledging an often insidious culture of disrespect towards women, gendered violence and the deafening silence of shame and fear felt by many women. For these reasons alone we must change.

To make this happen it is absolutely critical that the voices of Australian women are heard and reflected in all ranks of government – not just in government boards outlined in this target that we are yet to meet.

As it stands 75% of the Federal Liberal Government Ministers are male, hardly representative of the 51% of Australia’s population which is female.

The way to the lack of diversity, is to introduce a 50/50 gender target and take evidence from what’s happening in our own corporate world, where targets or quotas are proving effective.

The Australian Institute of Company Directors today reported that the number of women appointed to ASX 200 boards increased to 32.9% as of February 28, up from 32.1% in January.

This increase may look small but when you consider that the AICD set the goal in 2015 to have women represent at least 30% of all ASX 200 board directors, the gain therefore becomes more significant and progressive.

The latest Financy Women’s Index for the December quarter, which tracks gender gaps including the progress of women on boards, found that in 2020 female ASX 200 board appointments rose by 2 points, double that seen in 2019, but still trailing the 3.7 points recorded in 2018 – a standout year.

Women accounted for nearly 43% of all new board appointments in 2020, which is the best yearly result since record keeping began in 2011.

Two of the arguments against quotas has been that they encourage the same qualified women to sit on multiple boards or even less qualified women to be appointed to allow companies to “tick a pink box” on gender equality.

But this argument needs to be challenged by evidence of the benefits that can come from gender diversity as well as the growing pool of talented and eager women to draw from who are starting their own businesses in Australia and who are chief executives or chief financial officers, and who want to be taken seriously. Not to mention the role modelling it provides to future female leaders currently going through the school system.

A 2020 study by Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, also supports a growing body of research that’s found greater workplace diversity is not just good for society and brand image but it helps improve company performance.

Another reason why we need quotas is that it encourages more women to speak out and take lead without fear – which sadly one too many Australian women cite as a reason for not putting themselves in the leadership spotlight.

As the Prime Minister Scott Morrison noted in an emotional press conference today he is “very open” to quotas after being dogged by increased reports of sexual assault, and the mistreatment and disrespect of women in government ranks.

Industry Minister Karen Andrews also said on Tuesday morning that it was time for “serious considerations” for Liberal Party quotas for women in winnable seats.

Mr Morrison said he was “very open” to these questions, adding that “We’ve tried it the other way, it’s not getting the results we would like to see,” he said.

“I would like to see us do better on that front.”

With this post, I call on the Prime Minister to do better by starting with the introduction of quotas at 50/50 from the next election.

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