By Godfrey Bloom
The concept of compulsory quota was first mooted, if my memory serves me right, in the women’s rights and gender equality committee in 2005.
The committee has a reputation of being eccentric by any standards, even by the bizarre standards of the EU. After nearly ten years as an EU 'parliamentarian' I know that once an idea is suggested, no matter how implausible, it will eventually gain traction and approval, for the Brussels regulatory machine plays the long game.
The compulsory female quota therefore will arrive sooner or later in some form. National states will roll over and give in to what they feel is inevitable, the people will shrug their shoulders and sigh believing that the great engine of law making will continue
Many words have been written on the subject of gender equality, feminism, quotas and research statistics, usually by social engineers. They claim resistance is archaic and futile. The intonation of voice, the flicker of the eyebrow, the sardonic conspiratorial glance to show solidarity with the 'sisterhood' by the female BBC TV presenter, herself a beneficiary of the quota system.
Yet my argument is not about the statistics which might show the experiment in Norway (40% quota now for female directors in public companies) has been a failure, which it appears to have been. As a retired investment strategist I know just how to manipulate statistics, even if they were relevant to such an ephemeral debate.
My approach is Socratic. I believe most modern political thought and comment fails because society does not ask the right questions. This is possibly the fault of television, wireless and newspapers which are all part of the establishment. Penetrating questions on political philosophy or economics would expose the questioner as much as the questioned.
How, for example, can public service broadcasting challenge government overspending when they are wasteful recipients of public largesse? How close can the Daily Telegraph or Sunday Times go to the wire to expose the failing of a Conservative administration? How could the Daily Mirror criticise the complete mismanagement of the economy or immigration in their term of office? German readers could no doubt fill in the names and parties of their cosy media government conspiracy of silence on the most important issues of the day.
I am always fascinated to hear pseudo philosophical scientific comment from the likes of Richard Dawkins on the impossibility of the creationist theory. Yet any senior physics professor will tell you that 95% of the universe remains unexplained - perhaps unexplainable? The atheist is an absurd figure, the agnostic is the only rational thinker. The answer is patently 'we don't know'. We may have a hypothesis or even a theory, but we do not 'know'. How could we? What arrogance to suggest we do. Of course 'faith' is a different concept and not the point at issue here. Or is it?
Let us assimilate such scanty evidence as we have to hand on the implications of enforced equality. Is that which is really on offer a system of engineering equality of outcome? This is easier by far to achieve, but of course there is no moral high ground, even for a public service broadcaster who has long since had any form of original thought steamed out by the 'right-on, politically-correct' thought police.
Much of which we endure today on discussion of gender equality is the result of political fashion. This phenomenon is as familiar as haute cuisine or couture. Indeed, they bear direct comparison. Modern feminism was spawned in the bra burning 1970s by rather shrill, bored, middle class women of a certain physical genre. They punched miles above their weight but represented few women.
Almost every woman of my mother's vintage in our avenue had military or naval service. Everything had been done by women that could possibly be done. Aircraft delivery pilots, truck driving, administration, front line nursing support, The Armistice Day service in our town was awash with ladies sporting war time medals. I have my mother's still. My mother thought 'feminists' ridiculous, absurd and sometimes offensive.
So who do these women represent? They are supported usually by men who seem to have no link with the usual social and sporting male preserves, the slightly effete politically correct chaps who get sand kicked in their face on the beach. You've guessed it. The middle class 'liberal' political elite.
In most walks of life in America or western Europe overt discrimination is actually illegal. Try advertising 'male applicant wanted, must be under 30, strong, for heavy work, no blacks or Irish need apply'. Yet the political class plough their own furrow. They have women-only short lists. So discrimination is alright depending upon what type of discrimination it is, depending on who the actors are? We therefore have a perpetuation of the system. Political women are in office because of the quota system. They are beneficiaries. They want more. If you lack merit why support a world which is meritocratic?
The core objection to 'affirmative action' in the field of gender 'equality' in commerce is that it is inherently immoral. Public companies are owned by shareholders who risk capital. The company must be run for their benefit and theirs alone. Of course good business sense demands employees and customers are cared for, but this is not the mission statement of any company and nor could it be. Everyone concerned and dependent on the well being of a company must have the most meritocratic board members available. They may be tall, short, male, female, black, white, yellow, blond, brunette or red headed.
The idea that women need special political help to get to positions of authority is nonsense. Probably the most successful woman chief executive since the war is Kate Smith who turned around W H Smith, the ailing high street retailer in a sector which was thought to be in a terminal decline. Great Britain had a woman prime minister without a quota system. She was arguably the most successful peacetime prime minister of all time. I could continue with a list of successful women in a variety of fields but it is both patronising and unnecessary.
Notwithstanding advances in neuro surgery (incidentally one of the leaders in this field is an Oxford lady surgeon) we know very little about the human mind - least of all the difference between men and women.
Let us explore for a moment the questions needed to establish the difference between males and females. I am just about as 'alpha' as a male can be: army, rugby, boxing, cricket, commerce etc. I am not a 'new man'. I would not be caught dead at a birth of a baby and I'm happy to punch the first man who tries to steal my beer. I had the opportunity to join the board of a FTSE 250 company in 1992. I worked in London, lived in Yorkshire, travelled at weekends, worked a twelve hour day and was rarely at home. I was 42 and had been married for about five years with no children.
I decided, after very careful thought, I did not want it. I enjoy hunting, fell walking, cycling, a bit of cricket and country pubs. Although very 'alpha' I'm not particularly ambitious and I'm not motivated by money at all. I was on a package of about £70,000 per annum in 1992. It's not big stuff by London standards but very liveable. I am on £65,000 now as an MEP (the same as a Westminster MP).
Lifestyle quality is my goal. Most CEOs of FTSE 100 companies in my view are socially dysfunctional. They boast of never seeing their family and working 14 hour days and weekends. This is something to be ashamed of. Now I think that surely a very significant number of women would think the same, especially with an inbuilt, genetic predisposition to give family higher priority. Perhaps the reason they are under-represented in European boardrooms is because they are more balanced with different priorities. Who knows?
We do know that if they choose to do it they are as competent as any male. What else do we know? That women are now equally represented in accountancy, law and medicine. Similarly, they are over represented in certain professions like radiography, physiotherapy, nursing, midwifery and social services. In short, lifestyle and career choices pretty well reflect where anyone with commonsense would expect them to be.
The small band of female political activists do not understand their own 'sisterhood'. Most professional and successful business women laugh at their views and antics, although perhaps not as openly as I do. Political correctness is a funny sort of disease and political incorrectness a ‘vice’ which dare not speak its name.
There are many more unexplained differences between the sexes.
Women, in spite of years of training in art and music - and significant leisure time in the 18th and 19th Centuries - have produced few great works, although if I could have any picture on my drawing room wall it would certainly be by a woman. The estimable Lady Butler - worth Googling unless you are French.
Men and women are different, yet there is no golden rule. Most women can find the mustard in the pantry quicker than a man and most men can reverse a car better than a woman - although my wife can reverse a horsebox through a narrow passageway better than most men. My female French colleague is a phenomenal car parker in tiny spaces in French cities. But it is not the norm.
Men and women care about different things on a micro-scale. Leaving the lavatory seat up, wet towels on the bed and the top left off the toothpaste will drive a wife made. A man simply cannot understand what the problem is. Most wives do not regard putting petrol in the car as any part of their responsibility. Men cannot see the point in making the bed if you are going to get back in it tonight.
Let me go further, as I must, to expose the absurdity of gender quotas for boardrooms, proposed by those with very little knowledge of life outside politics never mind the commercial world. With 40 years of commerce, military and politics under my belt, I think I can offer a view based on experience.
Italian army officers do not think like German officers. British officers do not think like most other European officers. American officers are quite unlike the British in spite of a common language and strong historical bond. But it grows more complicated still. The northern Italian executive has a different nuanced view to the southern, the Protestant Irish executive is poles apart from his Southern Irish Catholic opposite numbers. In none of these examples do I suggest one is better than another. A London human resource agency director is a completely different beast from the director of a ship building firm in Barrow in Furness.
A London professional woman has a completely different view and cultural approach to a Yorkshire professional. Notice I have not yet even attempted to illustrate the differences in social class. An upper middle class English woman has more in common with a French woman of her class than a working class British woman. A Japanese woman and a Singapore Chinese are about as different as it is humanly possible to be. So the whole concept of gender quota is no more sensible than having a quota system for size, complexion or hair colour. Indeed what a paradox if there was discrimination based on race which is illegal in most industrialised democracies.
In France, where the concept is advanced, rumour has it that it is working better than they thought it might. One is irresistibly drawn into speculation as to the role of the chairman or managing director's mistress.
You cannot legislate for human nature and nor should you.
Godfrey Bloom began his City career in the investment department of Matthews Wrightson in 1967. He retired from investment management in 2004 to take up his seat in the European parliament representing Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire. His experience includes the EU internal consumer affairs committee and more recently acting as co-ordinator of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group on the economic and monetary affairs committee and women’s rights and gender equality committee. He is also a substitute member of the Environment Committee.
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