If Associate Minister for Women Julie-Anne Genter wants to advance the cause of women in terms of sitting at the top table, talking of quotas is precisely the wrong way to go about it.

Ms Genter, an American, can hardly fail to be aware that her native country's dalliance with quotas has never achieved what was intended, and has no reason to believe that the same won't happen here. All quotas do is devalue the achievements of the sector that is supposedly in need of positive intervention. Promoting women to corporate and government boards purely because of their gender will do infinitely more harm than good.

If nothing else it is cruel to promote anyone beyond their level of competence, for whatever reason. One has to look no further than Parliament to see examples of that.
As far as government goes, there isn't even a windmill for Ms Genter to tilt at.

Depending on who one listens to, the proportion of women in leadership roles already sits at somewhere between 41 and 47 per cent. Hardly evidence of a gross imbalance. One can only hope that those women who occupy those positions were selected on merit, or at least are capable of doing their job.

'There might be discrimination, but there might also be valid reasons why women are in a minority. Surely it is not unreasonable to surmise that some women don't aspire to sit in boardrooms.'

No doubt they were and are, but Ms Genter's determination to intervene on behalf of her gender already raises doubts that that is necessarily the case.

Perhaps the most glaring example of negatively affecting a sector seen as in need of support is the American system, which hopefully has now been abandoned, of establishing tertiary qualification quotas.

The same thing was tried here some years ago, in a bid to boost the proportion of teaching graduates from ethnic minorities. It too, hopefully, has been abandoned, given that the only outcome was to significantly reduce the quality of graduates, which contributed to making the profession even less attractive to the genuinely able than it already was.

There were even stories about of primary teaching graduates with lower reading ages than those of the children they had been trained to teach.

The problem in America was that graduates of the chosen ethnicities were perceived, rightly or wrongly, as having acquired their degrees courtesy of their race. That was undoubtedly a fair assessment in some cases and a grossly unfair one in others. For some, degrees suddenly became worthless, whatever the qualities and abilities of the graduates.

The same principle will apply here once women are appointed to boards simply because they are women.

Meanwhile the Minister, like many before her, is a little disingenuous when she portrays any disparity between the proportions of men and women on boards as a simple issue of discrimination. It may not be simple at all.

There might be discrimination, but there might also be valid reasons why women are in a minority. Surely it is not unreasonable to surmise that some women don't aspire to sit in boardrooms. That is far from unknown in education.


The writer knows a number of exemplary teachers, men and women, who have resisted promotion, very much on merit, because it will take them away from doing that they most enjoy doing, and are best at — teaching. Who can criticise them for choosing to remain in the classroom? How is that the fault of 'the system?'

Not that teaching seems to be in any imminent danger of becoming dominated by men.
It is a fact, unpalatable as it might be to some, that some women also take time away from paid employment to raise families.

There is no reason why men cannot share that role, and increasingly they are. Ms Genter and others of her ilk would no doubt like to see that trend gain momentum, but if they have discovered a means of dampening the maternal instinct, or perpetuating the human race without involving women at all, they have yet to share it.

Ms Genter also has to accept that on the one hand there really doesn't seem to be an issue of gender imbalance in government, and on the other, that if there really is an issue in the private sector then there isn't much she can do about it.

Even a government of her stripe would surely not stoop to dictating who private companies may and may not appoint to their boards. If they do, they won't be in government for long.

And shouldn't we accept that the private sector is keen to achieve the best possible result for its owners and shareholders, even employees? More so, one suspects, than their public sector counterparts, where the gender imbalance is apparently much less pronounced. Does anyone really believe that any business would not appoint someone who can do the best job, or at least a very good job, because she's a woman?

The reasonable conclusion is that the Minister is not pushing a human rights barrow, but a feminist one. If that is not so, why is she not harassing the Ministry of Education to do something about the extreme gender imbalance over which it presides? Has she even mentioned that imbalance? Not in the writer's hearing. Is she aware of it? She has to be. Does it bother her? Not at all.

That betrays Ms Genter's real agenda. This is not about fairness and building an inclusive, equal society where everyone gets a fair shake of the stick. It's about empowering women, whether they want empowering or not.

It's got nothing to do with fairness, happiness, fulfilment or prosperity. It's political, pure and simple. And if this is the best Ms Genter can do, she should consider asking for a real job in Cabinet, or leaving it.

The point about the lack of men in education is an important one. Ms Genter will deny this — she has to — but when it comes to shaping the evolution of our society, teachers have far more influence than company directors do. The way our children are taught, often regardless of the input they receive from their parents, largely determines how they will function as adults.

Unlike their parents, and certainly their grandparents, many children today seem to be taught not how to think but what to think. That might be a symptom of a greater malaise than a gender imbalance, but the fact that male teachers have become all but extinct should not be regarded as healthy. Indeed it deserves a much higher priority than any imbalance in the corporate boardroom.

There isn't a company director in the country who can influence how the next generation thinks, but every last teacher, good, bad or indifferent, can and does. And male input is important, particularly in an age when many children, boys especially, do not have male role models in their lives.

If we really cared about that we would not take the lack of male teachers lying down. The fact that we do take it lying down suggests that we have been brainwashed, or we just don't care enough to complain.

Ms Genter should care, but clearly doesn't. If that's not the case, let's hear her plan for gender equity in education. Or she should stop using the term gender equity altogether, because that, obviously, is not what she is after.

If she was she would have done something about the male dominance of her own Cabinet. Wouldn't she?