by Sellick Partnership | 22 July 2014
David Cameron's largest Cabinet reshuffle made the headlines largely for the wrong reasons. The Daily Mail struck again to cover the story in a way that managed to equally offend across party lines.
Whilst the story was distasteful, labelling Downing Street a "catwalk” and completely ignoring the politics and relative merits of these recently promoted women who have become some of the UK most high-ranking officials, it did raise a valid point about gender equality and whether positive discrimination has a place in the 21st century workplace.
Whatever people's opinion on positive discrimination playing a part in recruitment methods, there is no denying that the gender gap in the UK workplace is huge; 17 countries have a narrower gender gap than the UK. Many of these won't be a surprise, Nordic countries taking many of the top 10 places; however the Philippines and Nicaragua also rank above the UK. As of January only 9 Heads of State and 15 Heads of Government were women.
Clearly a lot of work has to be done to reduce the gender gap and by no means would I argue that it's acceptable that women, as Charlotte Whitton put it, must do twice as well as men to be through half as good.
However I would argue that this does not mean society needs to be turning to positive discrimination.
I want to progress in my career because I am good at my job, not because I am the best woman at my job or because my employer wants to fill an equality quota by giving me a promotion. I don't know extensive amounts about the women recently promoted to say that they are beneficiaries of positive discrimination, however I would openly question the logic of making a woman the Minister for Women and Equalities when she does not believe LGBT people should have the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts. Rightly so she has been described by the media as the Minister for straight women.
Ideally organisations will have a workforce that reflects the make up of society, but if society isn't producing women and minorities that can do the roles, then the problem is much larger than sexist companies.
I attended a Redbrick university that has its entry requirements of 3 As regardless of the course you are applying for. Nick Clegg frequently says he wants these requirements lowered for state school pupils. I could not disagree with this policy more.
This is not only because I achieved the required grades whilst being state school educated but found the course I studied personally and academically stressful; I can't imagine how much more my feelings of inadequacy would have been exacerbated if I had also known that I got worse grades than everyone else on my course. More importantly, this ignores the fact some state schools underperform, and by reducing requirements for state school pupils, surely this is politicians accepting that you cannot receive as good an education if you are not fortunate enough to pay or lucky enough to be eligible for a full scholarship.
I would love to see 50% of the top positions filled by women, and I strongly believe we're getting closer to this. When Hillary Clinton said in her speech conceding defeat to Barack Obama that the "hardest and highest glass ceiling” had yet to be shattered, but "18 million cracks had been made”, I imagine that rang true with even the most devoted Obama supporters.
I strongly believe in equality and appreciate how far women's rights have come and how far there is still to go, but I cannot help but believe that the false equality created by positive discrimination could never be true equality, and personally, I could never be happy in a role knowing that it was my gender and not my brain that got me there.