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The usual objections to gender quotas are that some “right” person won’t be selected because a woman will be preferred or that it will be unfair to a particular man. These might make some sense if we were talking about 50% in a situation not far off 50%. The reality is that participation rates are often so ludicrously small that very modest quotas could make a significant difference.

Let’s take the selection of Dáil candidates. Now, while anything other than about 50/50 is odd, a conservative proposal would be that in a constituency in which a party runs two candidates, one must be a woman.

Did I hear howls?

Ok, ok, calm down. How about the following? In a constituency in which a party runs three candidates, one must be a woman?

Frankly, anyone howling now is opposed to women candidates.

Yes, I did say that anything other than 50/50 is odd! A predominantly male workforce would be odd too. Take the case of hiring staff. If one were recruiting, say, engineers, a reasonable outcome over time would be that one’s staff of engineers would reflect the proportion of engineers who are women. If one were recruiting staff where the educational requirement were, say, leaving cert, a reasonable outcome over time would be 50/50. Because the recruiter is not being asked to achieve anything very much in anything like the short term, any other outcomes would require a special effort!

You see, the size of a proposed quota DOES matter and it is right to call into question the seriousness of anyone who opposes a small quota aimed at making a small difference to a major discrepancy. Yes, I guess there are people who would erect a principle but then there’s no point in talking.

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