State enterprise sector shows the way for gender balance

Mon, Jan 20, 2014, 01:02

The glass ceiling that holds women back from managerial advancement is as impenetrable as ever, with new research matching data from a decade ago. Everyone accepts that women make excellent rank and file workers but too few of them go on to become managers and leaders in their workplaces. It is as true for politics as for academia with women tending to hold fewer than one in five of the senior posts.

The reasons why this is so have been debated for many decades, and from time to time efforts are made to correct this gross gender imbalance that the European Parliament considers an infringement of human rights.

Figures offered by the Centre for the Advancement of Women in Politics at Queen’s University Belfast suggest that over the years the percentage of women in the Irish cabinet typically floats between just over 10 per cent but doesn’t exceed 20 per cent. The percentage of women in the Irish cabinet in the mid-1990s was 12.5 per cent, and rose to about 20 per cent during the string of Fianna Fáil-led governments prior to the Government taking office. Queen’s calculates that female involvement is currently back to 13 per cent.

Women need to hold at least a third of seats in order to have influence within a parliamentary setting, according to a report from the Oireachtas Library and Research Service from 2010 looking at women’s participation in EU parliaments. The European Parliament set a figure of 40 per cent to ensure that at least that parliament would allow for a real female voice, and it is relatively close to achieving that, according to figures up to last October, with women accounting for 36 per cent of parliamentarians in Strasbourg.

The Oireachtas researchers looked at individual countries and found that Sweden had the most women, 46.4 per cent, in its lower house with South Africa coming in second with 44.5 per cent. Finland was fifth with 40 per cent and Denmark completed the top 10 with 38 per cent. Eight of the top 10 countries ensure balance by imposing quotas with Finland and Denmark the exceptions, and the Oireachtas researchers quote commentators who argue that quotas are the way to go.

Many countries resist the idea of fixed quotas to force balance and successive governments have stayed away from them. If not done on a national basis then it comes down to political parties but balance won’t emerge from them. “In general, the political parties are the gatekeepers to gender balance in political decision making because they control the nominations. It has been calculated that 47 per cent of Irish women have no female TD to represent them, whereas 100 per cent of Irish men have a male TD to represent them,” the Oireachtas researchers write in their report.

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