Future Lawyer Blog

The Legal Debates: Quotas are the only solution to gender equality in the workplace (Event Review )


Arguing for the motion:

Arguing against the motion:

  • Journalist and Radio Presenter – Justin Webb
  • President of Women in Banking and Finance and Chief Privacy Officer, Thomson Reuters – Vivienne Artz

Chaired by:

  • Vice President of Marketing at Thomson Reuters Legal UK & Ireland – Gary Hurry

The second Legal Debate of 2018 took place at The Mermaid Conference, where a live audience gathered to watch the contentious debate.

The vote preceding the debate showed that 54 percent of the audience were against the motion, compared to 46 percent who were in favour of the motion.  Each debater had ten minutes to present their argument and, afterwards answer questions from the audience.

Catherine Mayer kicked off the debate, stating that “meaningful” quotas bring about institutional change.  Gender equality in the workplace has been slowly progressing in the United Kingdom, according to Mayer, where the ‘clubby nature’ and unconscious bias is still prevalent, and shared parental leave is not funded properly.  Her suggestion was the introduction of legislation to implement quotas alongside a host of other measures to ensure diversity, representation and fairness.

Next was Justin Webb, who recalled the differences between Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and that of Hillary Clinton’s.  Webb suggests the risk of imposing quotas is that individuals will be persuaded that they are not autonomous and able members of society.  Instead of quotas, Webb recommends addressing the disadvantages of the workplace and structural problems of society.  “Genuine” progress on gender equality is being made and Webb contends that introducing quotas would create a new set of problems and potentially erase the progress of gender equality.

Dr. Charlotte Proudman cited personal experiences of sexual harassment in the early and recent stages of her career.  She argued that men benefitted from structural inequality and gender parity could only be achieved through quotas.  Dr. Proudman raised the issue of the lack of diversity in the judiciary where decisions impact women’s bodies and lives.  She challenged the common perception that quotas disregard the principle of merit and concluded that she wanted to experience equality in her lifetime.

Finally, Vivienne Artz was also frustrated with the lack of progress. However, Artz stated that quotas do not produce the trickle-down effect and are only focussed on board level.  She asserted that quotas were against natural justice, therefore were not legitimate to employ.  Artz warned against forcing change in an immovable structure – the key to gender equality in the workplace is changing the structure.  She offered a solution in the form of targets, arguing that targets are more transparent and lead to accountability.

After the main speeches, Gary Hurry, the chair, asked the audience to quiz the panel.  Closing comments soon followed from each debater. The audience cast their vote and the post-debate results revealed Catherine Mayer and Charlotte Proudman had won the debate with 57 percent of the audience agreeing with the motion. Congratulations to Catherine and Charlotte!

Reviewer Cristina

There was no argument of whether women should be in senior roles – the crux of the debate was on the legitimacy and credibility of quotas to achieve equality in the workplace.  Law students should be aware of this hot topic as it is affecting law firms and companies across the board, nationally and internationally.

A video of the event is available on Legal Cheek via Facebook.

Many thanks to LLB2 student Cristina DeSouza for this review of The Legal Debates.

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