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“This House believes that positive discrimination for women is no longer necessary”. I chose to oppose the motion but I could have argued for either side. Here is the gist of my five minute speech: “On the face of it, I am in absolute agreement with the proposers. Women do not need special favours.

    • After all, I have never had any problem – but then I am a sample of one and an entrepreneur.
    • Women are 51% of the adult population – therefore the majority.
    • They outperform boys at every stage.
    • They make up 60% of the world’s graduates.
    • Even if they have children and around 43% of them won’t, women still have 30 odd years of professional life to offer.
    • All the evidence indicates that women contribute hugely to the success of a business bringing excellent modern leadership styles.

Yet, it is estimated that it will take another 60 years to achieve equality. So, while we may not need positive discrimination for women, I believe that we may need it for men!

    • Businesses were designed, built and run by men. It’s hardly surprising that female talent is overlooked. No-one mentions that the quotas that are currently in place are 90% male!
    • Most of this is unconscious – I was gender blind till a few years ago. Working with executives, I didn’t notice how few women there were because it was ‘normal’ for me to work with men and being a woman was often an advantage
    • Men appoint in their own image, narrowing the gene pool, diversity of thinking and opportunities for creative new talent
    • Talent is an expensive resource –companies starting 50:50 then lose 50% of women every 5 years. This is careless and expensive- especially if these women go to your competitor or set up their own business in competition.
    • Our economy needs modern firms that realise how the world has changed –Coutts proudly described the women’s leadership programme I ran for them as ‘the first women’s leadership programme in 300 years’ demonstrating how they were moving forward while honouring tradition
    • Any positive action is not to give women an unfair advantage but rather to make up for having been previously disadvantaged, bringing then up to a level with their male peers

What do we mean by Positive Discrimination?

  • As a positive psychologist, I know positivity creates success more than negativity or laissez faire behaviour
  • We pride our selves on being discriminating- in our choice of coffee, banks or cars
  • Positive discrimination and merit are not mutually exclusive. Quotas do not mean that we go into the street and choose the first person who doesn’t have a . . .  . .Y chromosome! We ask that companies consider the talented individual who is just different from their expectation.
  • Positively questioning where women who leave their companies are going and why is a start. They are not at home baking cupcakes (even if they gave you ’family’ as a reason for leaving)

The proposers would argue that it is happening anyway

  • I was told that in my student days but it is not what senior women in organisations tell me now.
  • Nothing is worse than being told you will learn something when you’re older but when young women feel it is all sorted because they have not encountered overt discrimination and they haven’t noticed the subtle stuff. Gen Y men may expect equality but they will be sucked into the system if we don’t make changes now
  • As a Mother of daughters and for all you parents of daughters out there, I challenge you to check the legacy you are bequeathing those bright young women. Are we brave enough to say, “let’s stop talking and just change things’?

  It is time for a paradigm shift rather than doing nothing. But habits are hard to change – trust me I’m a psychologist. Discrimination against women is just a bad habit, unconsciously acted on. It bears no resemblance to how good men really think about women’s talent. Let’s change it now. An illustration: In the 70s the government wanted people to wear seat belts. Prior to that it seemed ok to chuck you family in the car and risk their lives.  This would interfere with that liberty. Step 1 – They APPEALED TO OUR INTELLECT: the facts and figures and  WE DIDN’T WEAR OUR SEATBELTS Step 2 – They went for our emotions- films of hospitals and a hammer hitting a peach – I’ve never forgotten that one but WE DIDN’T WEAR OUR SEATBELTS! Step 3 – They made it law, ‘clunk click every trip’ and WE WORE OUR SEATBELTS. Take away the law now and that habit is installed. So, the intellectual case for women has been made but nothing has changed. We have appealed to the emotions but nothing changed. If we want to have the best businesses in the best society then, we need to stop talking and do something different NOW so our grandchildren are not still having this conversation. I implore you to take action to change out dated, habitual behaviours now.” My brilliant team members were Richard Wheatly, CEO of Jazz FM, David Sheepshanks CBE Chairman of St George’s Park and Lewis Iwu a trainee solicitor at Slaughter and May. Our styles were all very different, proving the benefits of diversity and we were delighted to discover that we had swung the vote in our favour. As a result, I am now inordinately proud of my winner’s trophy. I should like to thank each of them and Dr Margaret Mountford who was an excellent Chair ( she said she was fine with being called a piece of furniture) Jo Thornell of Coutts who was brilliant for initiating and hosting this debate. A great night and a certain amount of celebration followed. Written by Averil Leimon.

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