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Positions for Women: The Fallacy of Reserving Gender Quotas

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The new Kenyan Constitution established a gender equity clause. For public positions, members of any gender may not hold more than two third the positions. Based on it, for the first time, Kenyans will be voting for women representatives to the senate in the coming election.

Elsewhere, there has been a growing call for the inclusion of women in various leadership positions, and general inclusion of women in many other places. In Africa, the girl-child NGO industry is quite large, and may eclipse the budget of a number of African countries.

In Norway, about 100 of 500 companies are said to have delisted as a reaction to a rule that mandated women in boards. (More about that here http://www.womenonboards.org.au/pubs/articles/norway_bigpicture.htm)

Meanwhile, elsewhere, Yahoo became another big tech company to have a Woman CEO. When 30 year old Marissa Mayer joined Yahoo as the companies CEO, she was  in her third trimester of pregnancy. After her delivery, she was back to her desk in two weeks. She is also said to have worked through her short maternity leave. You will agree that this lady here gives ammunition to those fighting for gender empowerment, with the right, and takes it away with left.
Mayer is also on the board of five other firms.

She joins Ginni Rometty, IBM’s CEO. Now, IBM sponsors an annual prestigious golf tournament at Augusta National. It is customary for the IBM CEO to be invited to join the membership ranks of Augusta National.  However, for Rometty, she was not invited to join the prestigious membership ranks at Augusta National. See, they are not about to admit their first female member, as yet.

From the earlier link on women on Norwegian boards, the article states that having reached their target at the top, it was now time to embark on lower levels of management.

A while ago, a friend (on Twitter) shared their experience on a visit to a wine producing region in South Africa, which are still almost exclusively white. The region had been pressured to maintain a white-black racial balance. Firms in the region were thus employing black South Africans as a result. My friend chatted one of the blacks, who admitted that he really didn’t do much, and that he enjoyed the high flying life in the town, with horses and all. Well, he was assured of his job, as the employer couldn’t fire him, in a bid to maintain racial balance.

A focus on maintaining balance, how many numbers of a certain people, might not go down well with an organisation that is more focused on performance. Again, the insistence on the balance starting from the top and trickling downwards also introduces a challenge. Performing and effective leaders are supposed to be the cream of the crop. If there’s no emphasis to increase the number of women up the ranks, it thus becomes harder to pick women.

Another problem in the gender balance issue comes from societal biases towards women. Despite the first programmer being a woman, the number of women in tech is not something one can write home about. The numbers remain low, despite an equal opportunity policy and even policies that place emphasis on women.

See, women are brought up and geared towards certain biases. Barbie toys are for girls, cars and plane replicas are for boys. In rural areas, home keeping tasks are allocated to girls while menial tasks are allocated to the boys.

Looking at education, there is a bias towards certain subjects for boys and girls. In 2010, 158,344 girls sat for English Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education(KCSE) against 196,607 boys.

155,725 girls sat for Chemistry against 191,653 boys. 1

48,729 girls sat for Biology against 166,334 boys.

A paltry 29,964 girls sat for Chemistry against 79,108 boys.

In the Social Sciences 97,546 girls sat for History against 127,980 boys.

44,471 sat for Geography against 67,175 boys.

128,762 girls sat for Christian Religious Education against 111,458 boys.

0 girls sat for Woodwork against 374 boys.

1 girl sat for Metalwork against 219 boys.

12 girls sat for Building and Construction against 211 boys.

3 girls sat for Power Mechanics against 156 boys.

No girl dared be caught dead sitting for the Electricity  exam, which 161 boys sat for.

A bias is clearly in the making, for what careers are “right” for girls. The other reason might be that some subjects are deemed “too difficult” for girls to study. In addition, you may find that girls schools are not equipped to teach some subject, either to low interest, or them being deemed not that necessary for girls.

Elsewhere, a friend who does sales for a publisher was remarking that the job is not suitable for ladies under the age of 30. At his workplace, he said that most ladies who joined the sales department ended up asking to be reassigned to other desk jobs in the office. After months in the sales department, the ladies did have a number of “working lunches”, but little in terms of sales to show compared to the males.

Rather than allocate slots to be filled up by a specific gender, it would be better if there was a focus on providing an equal playground to both genders. Girls, meanwhile will need to be encouraged more to try out the opportunities that are reserved for the boys, if they are willing to.

The biggest hindrance to women in society is bias, rather than slots allocated to them. Again, it is worth remembering that men and women generally see things different, and prefer them differently, but this should not stop individuals who prefer them differently.

Should we hire ladies because they are good at what they do, or because we need ladies to fill a few slots.

2010 KCSE Statistics: http://www.scribd.com/doc/49933701/KCSE-statistics

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