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Naomi Simson ita speaker

Real women’ don’t need quotas? was the topic debated last week in Canberra at the AIM great debate event at the National Convention Centre. I was given the task of debating for the affirmative. Which meant that I was debating against having quotas. I’m not sure of the number but there seemed to be about 1000 people in the room. And they voted a resounding ‘Yes we do need quota’s’.

I think however that the audience was not really simply voting for quotas as voting for change. Every person in the room was in agreement – we need more women in leadership roles. I may well have taken to the topic tongue in cheek after my esteemed team of Robyn Archer and Jane Wolfe had presented very convincing arguments, however Ita Buttrose with team mates Julie McKay and Sue McGready definitely ‘pipped us at the post’.

As the final speaker I argued that there was no doubt we were all in agreement that we needed more women on boards – but it is a question on how women get there that matters.

It did not take quota’s to get:

  • 27.3% of all federal parliamentarians women
  • 30% of all small business owners are female
  • 70.6% of all teachers are women (the role that influences all future generations)
  • 100% of all mothers are women.

None of these important roles took quotas

When I searched Google for ‘real women Australia’ it returned a website that was ‘empowering curvy women’ – I asked “do we need to be curvy to be considered a real woman – and do we need quotas for that?”.

Then searching Google for ‘quotas Australia’ most of what was presented was quotas for primary production such as dairy, beef and wheat. “Are women in leadership to be put into the same category as agriculture?” I implored.

Of course the more serious discussion of tokenism and merit were well argued by my team mates, and I summarized “Just because we make it to the board room doesn’t mean that we will be listened to, respected or valued – in fact if put there by quota we may do more harm than good for the ‘cause’.”

The corporate world by nature will not relish more regulation…. A board is in place to represent the interests of its shareholders. Hence, given it is clear that we do want change – if every person who has a share (of any size) attends the annual general meeting they have the right to ask a question… Simply on mass let’s all start asking the question “Why does your board makeup not represent the community to which it serves?”. The chairman and board will be forced to respond and take action.

Yes we want change – we have the power to influence that change for the companies we have shares in. It will cause change faster than any other action, after all quotas just simply might not be the best way to get change.

We may have lost the debate – but at least the conversation continues and it is not even ‘International Womens Day’ which is usually the anniversary of where we discuss this over and over again, year after year.

Please take action now – go to an annual general meeting and have your say – because we are all agreed that change is needed.

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