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Quotas: (un)necessary evil



The EU Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding has proposed imposing an obligatory 40% female quota for boardrooms of all companies across Europe.

My opinion about the issue was published in an article in the Times back in December last year, in which I explained why I believe such quotas to go against meritocracy, equality and democracy.

To starting from principles, I abhor big government and State impositions except when absolutely needed to redress a mismatch of opportunities or induced monopolies in the market. So a directive by the EU, imposing all nation states to force, by law, the number of women and men private companies should appoint to their boards, is already a false start.

The Maltese government together with the UK and other countries is opposing this proposal, and rightly so. Minister Chris Said reportedly told MaltaToday that the Maltese government believes the EU should stay out of such legislation and instead allow national governments to pursue their own equality measures. PN Executive President Dr. Marthese Portelli echoed this line of thought, insisting that women can and are already making it due to their own merit.

Equality measures should not include discrimination. Women and men should be placed on boards solely based on their merits, qualifications and experience, and not because someone has decided that statistics would look nicer if they balance out. Quotas do nothing to encourage women to work, they simply discriminate in favour of those already working. And even though Helena Dalli and the MLP, supporting this proposal, insist that "merit, experience and achievement will still remain the most important qualifications for any decision-making post", this obviously cannot be true. Once a quota is mandatory, satisfying the quota to abide with the law will become the most important consideration for any company, even if the company doesn't manage to find more qualified and experienced women adapted for that post.

The first step in having more women occupying top posts is by providing family-friendly measures and incentives to help get them out to work, and the government is doing a lot in this area, leading to a sharp rise in the number of women in employment in recent years.

No government, no Commissioner, and no one else outside the company's shareholders should have any say as to whom the company should entrust with its direction. After all, boards are not meant to be a sample of the population but a selection of competent and qualified persons. Otherwise, we would need to put a quota for different sexual orientations, different education levels, different religions and different political beliefs. A necessary evil to ensure there are no unequal outcomes, as the Hon. Dalli said.

It is not a co-incidence that even many women like Marlene Mizzi (a Labour MEP candidate in 2009) do not agree with the introduction of quotas. The reason is obvious. Quotas turn women occupying such positions from the competent and worthy individuals they are into simple quota-fillers. And no self-respecting woman wants that.

We are different unique humans and not numbers.

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