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Women 5050

Friday 05-12-2014 - 12:36

Given I'm writing a blog for Women 50-50, it probably seems a bit unnecessary kicking off like this, but here goes: women remain hugely underrepresented at the highest levels of decision making, in private sector companies and in many areas public life.

It seems unnecessary, but it really isn’t. Despite many years of campaigning for fairer representation of women we have seen limited progress with the ‘glass ceiling’ remaining very much intact, and we should be reminding everyone around us, and getting them to act on it, every single day.

Most worryingly for me, and in my role, our universities and colleges—who should be leading lights for innovation and social justice, as they are in many other fields—are not immune.

Ours is a sector where women are in the majority yet hugely underrepresented in senior levels and top decision making. Currently, women make up over 50% of the student population in further and higher education, and are roughly equal in terms of staff numbers, yet as we look at progressively higher levels their representation drops regressively lower.

It is often argued that quotas are the wrong way to achieve fair representation of women on boards, and that it is essentially discriminatory towards men, and goes against genuine equality and finding the “best person” for the job.

NUS Scotland would reject all of these, and think that they miss the fundamental point. That’s why I’m proud that delegates at our recent conference—an hour before they were due to be addressed by Alison Johnstone, all about the importance of Women 50-50 and the fight for fair representation—voted to ensure that our executive committee had 50% minimum fair representation.

At their core, requirements for fair representation do not somehow discriminate against men, but compensate for actual barriers that prevent women from fair representation.

Society is still a male dominated one – in leading professions, in parliament, in the media, and many other fields of influence – where women face structural and societal barriers to both taking part, but also to feeling empowered to take part. It is not ‘social engineering’ or ‘reverse discrimination’ to work to remove these, and ensure that women are able to take up their fair share of positions.

Those who believe that quotas are unnecessary because positions should always be awarded on ‘merit’ alone fail to understand that there are extremely capable women, who could and should be in these positions, but feel unable to put themselves forward due to these wider barriers.

While just introducing gender balancing won’t remove the direct discrimination which women face on a daily basis, but it does go a long way to empowering women to be more involved at all levels of decision making, and ensures that as a society we start breaking down the barriers to participation.

Similarly, a legislative response would continue in the positive direction taken, so far, by Germany, France, Italy and many Nordic countries, all of whom have shown the immense benefits which can be enjoyed by increasing the representation of women on boards.

The recent referendum, and the process it has created provides a generational opportunity to push those issues to the top of the agenda, and make the case for a society where women, and all groups who find themselves too often marginalised and forgotten, must be heard. Women 50-50 is doing just that.

While the referendum may have put many of us on opposing sides of how we wanted to achieve a fairer society, we were so often on the same when it came to what we wanted that society to see.

The debate on independence, and the outcome it has gifted—of Scottish society being involved a meaningful and genuine debate about the future of our country—means that we now have a huge opportunity to choose the type of world we want to live in, and our place in it.

Women 50-50 has done an amazing job of bringing together those from all parties, and none, under one vibrant and exciting campaign to say that no more will women go without their rightful place at every level of Scottish public life.

Because if women don’t have a seat at the table; if we don’t let our voices be heard; if we, and our allies, don’t challenge inequality and underrepresentation wherever we might find it, then we will simply remain out of sight and out of mind.

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