Taking One For The Team by Stephanie Hamilton, MD, ISS Food & Hospitality

With equality between men and women at board level still a long way off, are quotas a necessary evil? Stephanie Hamilton shares her views.

I am not a ‘sit on the fence’ kind of person. My opinions are always one way or the other. White wine and never red. ‘Team Cheese,’ rather than ‘Team Dessert’.

I love raw celery, but hate it cooked. Women in business quotas? I am ‘no’ on quotas. At least, I was…

I have worked in senior teams for a long time; mostly male, but not really to the point that I have noticed. I currently work on a board with a 70-30 male-female mix, which is the perfect balance and we were all selected on merit. I think we are a dynamic, high-performing team that works really well, so no quotas required, thank you very much!

And then I attended the Women 1st Conference.

I sat and listened to women describe their experiences of working on boards and heard the different perspectives; not just women, men too (Women 1st encourages men to join the group too, it’s fabulous!). I thought about the broad reach of businesses and how some people, both male and female, tend to recruit their mirror image. If, in some cases, the gender balance is 100% one way – male or female, then the status quo will never change. It bothered me. I spent my train journey home thinking about it.

I arrived home and my five-year-old daughter was sitting playing with Lego. So I kicked off my high heels, sat on the floor and joined in. ‘Daddy’ was the chef and, when I asked why, she replied: “because boys are chefs and girls are servers”. Hmmm.

I work in the hospitality industry and I just cannot believe my daughter would think that to be a fact. I asked some other questions: astronaut: man or woman? Person who delivers post: man or woman? School teacher, head teacher, ambulance driver? It was amazing that my bossy little five-year-old already had formed ideas about what gender these roles should be.

As I sat and spoke to her, sharing stories that these jobs could be anyone’s, it was clear to see that opinions actually start quite early. If, at your first school, your head teacher is male and your teacher is female, from early on the boss is male. If your head teacher is female and your teacher is male, the same notion of ‘normal’ starts.

This gave me more to think about regarding quotas. It is already well-reported within the press and lots of research studies that show that, if we continue at our current pace, we will fall short of the targets set by the Lord Davies review. I can sit well in my position and think “it doesn’t really affect me,” but I know there are lots of women and men out there that it does affect.

Also, I found myself looking at my five-year-old and wondering if quotas would be such a bad thing? If our generation ‘took one for the team’, the current slow rate of change would be broken and things might suddenly change at an amazing rate and pace.

I don’t know the answer, just as I still don’t like cooked celery or red wine, but I am determined that for one five-year-old, there will be no ‘blue’ or ‘pink’ jobs. We like purple in our house and, as the quota debate continues, I have found myself edging closer to the fence, to peer over and see what the other side is doing. I hope to see you there!

Stephanie Hamilton, MD, ISS Food & Hospitality

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