Quotas for women on boards: all the pros and cons in one place

The UK has just voted against an EU-wide quota.

The UK is opposing attempts to impose a 40 per cent quota for women on all boards for companies listed within the EU, and has just recieved enough support to block it. According to the FT, a draft letter signed by nine labour and business ministers said:

We agree with the commission’s stance that there are still too few women on the boards of publicly listed companies

[But] we reiterate that any targeted measures in this area should be devised and implemented at national level. Therefore, we do not support the adoption of legally binding provisions for women on company boards at the European level.

The FT has reported that many businesses are opposed to female quotas, with  Business Europe, the largest employers group in the EU, saying that they fail to address the real problems with equality in businesses.

It's a fraught issue, and over the last few years there's been much back-and-forth about whether quotas damage or promote women's interests. It's irritating to see the same arguments trotted out again and again, so here's a summary of some of the strongest in both directions:

Pros:

1. Here's a pretty strong one to start with: quotas are the quickest and most effective way to ensure more equal numbers of men and women on boards.

2. Quotas force the break up of elite circles that might otherwise remain unchallenged.

3. If women are promoted into positions of power, they can act as positive role models for others.

4. Once on the board, women are more likely to hire more women.

5. Quotas are not disciminatory, they simply correct existing discrimination. Is there existing discrimination? Well yes, if you a) believe that there are as many competent potential female board members as their male counterparts and b) take stock of the current imbalance in numbers.

Cons:

1. Quotas discriminate against the individual men who happen to be running against a woman for a seat.

2. If women are employed through quotas, they will be seen as "token", will be less respected and will have less power.

3. Quotas set women against each other, competing for a certain number of "women's seats", which might destroy co-operation and unity.

4. Instating a quota might lend businesses to view them as a ceiling rather than a floor on the number of women, stalling progress on equality in the long run.

So there they are. Have I missed any? Please leave a comment....

The first female doctor qualifies despite all male board. Photograph: Getty Images.

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

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Beware Tory Brexiteers trying to wreck EU negotiations

It is not in the interests of either moderate Tories or the opposition to let them. 

Our government has promised the United Kingdom the exact same benefits when it leaves the European Union that we have enjoyed while in. 

In the words of David Davis, Brexit secretary, the government’s plan is “a comprehensive free-trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have".

The negotiations that lie ahead are unprecedented and will be difficult and complex. It’s unlikely a deal will be reached in two years that can guarantee what Davis has promised - and what Labour holds the government to account on, as outlined this week by my colleague Sir Keir Stamer. But reaching a deal we must. It would be economic and political idiocy not to.

We know that those on the EU’s side of negotiations are not willing to negotiate on trade or customs without first making a deal on the Irish border, treatment of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU, and money owed. If these are not agreed to, we will have no deal at all.

In precise terms, a leaked letter from the European Parliament said the UK should pay all its liabilities “arising from outstanding commitments as well as make provision for off-balance sheet items, contingent liabilities and other financial costs that arise directly as a result of its withdrawal”.

It added that without a withdrawal agreement on citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the border in Ireland, the UK “would exit automatically the union on 30 March 2019 and this in a disorderly manner”.

Brussels estimates the bill to be around €60bn. Aside from the fact we will need to pay (or be open to negotiating some of the bill) as a prerequisite for future negotiations, it is the right approach to take. These are liabilities stemming from obligations that our country has made. It would not be right to renege on them simply because we do not want to pay. And, if we want a co-operative relationship in the future, we must be reasonable and willing to negotiate now.

Yet there is a small cohort of Conservative MPs that are saying just that.

Tory MP Bernard Jenkin's response on the potential of failing to reach a trade deal? “If they want us to pay too much for that, we say no, that’s okay, we’ll pay the tariffs." He laster added that we “won’t have to pay a penny if we don’t want to”. Earlier this month, when asked about the prospect of paying our bills, Foreign secretary Boris Johnson responded: “I think we have illustrious precedent in this matter: I think you can recall the 1984 Fontainebleau summit in which Mrs Thatcher said she wanted her money back and I think that is exactly what we will get.”

This is not a party political matter. Former Tory frontbencher Nicky Morgan  has said there are some members of her party who seem to want to pick a fight with the EU and not strike a very positive tone.

This negative tone is the least of our worries. There are legitimate fears in many corners of Westminster that a small group of Conservative MPs are trying to highjack the EU negotiations, get a number of newspapers on side, and refuse to pay a penny with the specified goal of crashing of the negotiations and bouncing Britain onto World Trade Organisation rules.

We know this would be devastating for our economy, for jobs, and for investment. Failing to reach a deal would be bad for everyone, but particularly for the UK.

True enough, Davis has acknowledged that the UK should pay something, but that the amount is open to negotiation.

The Prime Minister must stand up strongly to a small group of her own party’s backbenchers, who are actively trying to disrupt her efforts to negotiate with the EU.

Catherine West is the Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green.