THE BLOG

Women on Top - Should the EU Be Imposing Gender Quotas and Mis-Representation of Debate in Media

15/08/2013 23:39 BST | Updated 15/10/2013 10:12 BST

There has been much misrepresentation of last night's gender debate at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) which I jointly organised with the IEA. Much furore has been outpoured at Stuart Wheeler's comments on bridge playing and Godfrey Bloom saying that men are now discriminated in the boardroom.

Stuart clarified what he said. He doesn't have a sexist bone in his body - his wife and four daughters, all of whom I have met, would break his bones if he had. He said: "I pointed out that in certain areas, women did not do as well as men, and then I cited poker, bridge and chess.

"My point is that there are some things that men are better than women at, some things that women are better than men at, and you don't necessarily want to impose a minimum of either sex at the top of any profession or at the top of any board."

And that's fact.

Godfrey is on the EU's Women's Rights and Gender Equality committee - most people would be shocked to know that there is such a thing and the waste of taxpayers' money. He is pointing out that we cannot resist this legislation, that not one of the committee has ever had a job in the private sector before, let alone been on a board of a company. Yet, they dream up their little schemes for their version of utopia.

We had three eminent women on my panel - Jo Fairley, founder of Green and Black's chocolate fame, Dr Clare Gerada, current chair of the Royal College of General Practioners, Dr Ruth Lea, economist, along with Len Shackleton who has written reams on equality, pay gap and discrimination, is a fellow of the IEA and a lecturer at Buckingham University. And me. All were against gender quotas.

We think that we have to fix the pipeline of women coming through the ranks, tape up the leaky pipeline once they're there, give them increased mentoring, put them in charge of P&L accounts, managing people but with support and encouragement along the way. Sometimes women are their own worst enemies against each other. The Devil Wears Prada stalks amongst us.

Let's put straight what happened at the meeting. I organised it in conjunction with the IEA and took part in the debate, to demonstrate was what happening in the EU. The EU are planning mandatory gender quotas for UK publicly listed companies, where, by 2020 they will require a 40% female representation in non-executive positions, in some cases by 2018. This will be law by November of this year. We cannot stop it. The Tories are on the backfoot with this, it has taken UKIP to bring it to the forefront of people's minds.

The IEA was packed - and remember, this is the silly season in August when nothing much happens. We had standing room only, with people packed into their conference room where the debate was simultaneously video streamed into a second room. The audience was split across the gender divide with the average age c. 35 years old.

We asked the audience whether there was anyone in favour of gender quotas and not one person came forward. Yes, there was rigorous debate, with the media in full cry baying for Godfrey to slip up and be mis-interpreted. What they didn't quote however, was that the EU will force this through and woe betides any company that doesn't comply, there is no opt out. If you apply for public contracts you will be barred from taking part in a pitch contest if you do not have on your letterhead that you are 'gender quota compliant'.

What they did not report was what I and the other panellists were in agreement with and that's girls' education. They are still being pushed down traditional stereotypical gender roles. Until that changes no positive discrimination will work because they will be seen as tokens and none of us wish that.

I also pointed out that Gordon Brown's favourite pollster, Britain Thinks, did extensive polling on this subject. They found, overwhelmingly, across all gender and class that the majority of people do not wish to see gender quotas. The exception was a small minority of women who work in the public sector. Yet, the Euro and London liberal elite still push this agenda.

What you will have is unintended consequences. The same gene pool of women will swill around taking non-exec positions at £30k a time. Companies will de-list as in Norway as they will not be dictated how to run their companies. What will happen in those industries who are traditionally male dominated - heavy engineering, the motor industry and electronics. How can they apply the 40% gender rule if there are too few women who have knowledge of this sector. Do you appoint the women from IT or the secretarial pool? No, of course not.

Women will not be taken seriously who are appointed tokens - look at the Labour, Conservative and Liberal front benches - who takes Harriet Harman, Helen Grant, Maria Miller, the Eagle sisters and Lynne Featherstone seriously?

Do these people really think that the average women working in Tescos worries about the gender make-up of the board, or whether Sir Terry Leahy's replacement is a woman? No, they are more interested in whether they can be store manager one day and how they are going to get there. She must be supported. But do you know, she already is, as the retail trade has an excellent track record on equal opportunities. The token women of Westminster and the EU should ask ordinary women what they want.

Until we educate girls on a seriously equal basis - look up the statistics on today's A level results and compare the numbers of those girls taking physics and maths compared to boys, and then look deeper into the private versus the state school system and you will see that girls are tragically being left behind, both in career advancement, earnings capacity and choice.

And, if you want a more academic argument, read the IEA on the subject: http://http://www.iea.org.uk/blog/gender-quotas-the-left%E2%80%99s-version-of-trickle-down-economics