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Debate Room: Do we need gender quotas in sporting bodies?

Two commentators debate the use of quotas to increase the number of women on our sporting boards.

Caitriona O'Neill and William Gallagher

MINISTER OF STATE for Sport, Patrick O’Donovan, wants to introduce new gender quotas for Irish sporting bodies. In the future a third of all board members should be female. Currently the GAA, FAI and IRFU have no female representatives on their board of directors. 

From 2019, organisations with more than 10 employees will have to ensure that one third of their boards are made up of women, but is this the best way to improve gender equality? We asked two commentators to tell us what they think.

Brian Mohan

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NO. THIS YEAR I took a case against the State to tackle what I saw as an injustice. I took on the gender quotas that were introduced for the last general election. I didn’t win and, of course, myself and my legal team stated that we would be lodging an appeal. We did and we await our next date with baited breath.

So that was that, and I thought that I wouldn’t hear anymore about gender quotas, except for the odd slag down my local about my mounting legal costs.

Now I see that gender quotas are to be introduced by Patrick O’Donovan in regards to senior levels of sporting bodies in Ireland. Again we have a shotgun reaction to what we can all accept is a problem.

As well intentioned as the Minister is, he’s looking at the top instead of looking at the bottom. A house will only stand if it’s built on solid foundations. Instead of imposing fines and making boards change with a threat hanging over them, why not look at the participation of women at the other end of the scale?

There’s little interest in women’s sport

Every year on the third Sunday of September, Croke Park is full for the men’s All-Ireland football final. The hurling final also has a packed house. The demand is so high that tickets for both of these events are sold for hundreds of euros.

Yet under 35,000 people attended the women’s final this year. This shows the problem at the coalface. We do want an equal showing of both genders at board level in sport, but we need to generate interest in the sports before we start imposing financial penalties.

Why doesn’t the Minister take some of the grant money and put it to use by promoting female games and participation? Invest in people at a young age and you will see the benefits in the future.

The Minister has good intentions but all he is doing here, like Phil Hogan, is promoting an idea that will generate tokenism. Ultimately this will damage the participation of women in our sporting bodies, not improve it.

Brian Mohan is a bricklayer. He’s currently studying at DCU and is chairman of Fiánna Fail – Dublin Central. 

Orla O’Connor

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YES. THE HIGH profile of women’s sports and the significant successes of our women athletes in recent years make the absence of women in senior decision making an issue of inequality.

The proposed introduction of gender quotas this week is a welcome and necessary development to increase women’s representation in sporting organisations and to ensure better decision making.

Despite the success of girls and young women in education, despite the increased numbers of women in the workforce, and despite evidence of large numbers of women who are “board ready,” women in Ireland are still not securing leadership positions. The evidence is clear that without a bold instrument, such as the quota, change is too slow to come.

Young women need role models

You cannot be what you cannot see, and while young women have a whole host of role models on the field, it is important that they now see women in decision making positions off the field. The new quota is encouraging for women involved in sport, particularly those with a diversity of experience from the community and voluntary sector, from the public service, and from business. This is an ideal opportunity to improve the gender balance, but also to increase the diversity of voices having their say.

The economic case for women on boards is clear. There is now a growing body of evidence from a variety of different sources linking diversity to improved decision making, improved financial performance, higher levels of innovation and creativity, and improved governance and oversight. Board performance is clearly linked to tapping into the economic power and potential of women.

However, while quotas are an important first step, they will only achieve lasting success when used as part of a larger strategy that tackles board requirements. They will incentivise sporting bodies to look at how women are promoted within the organisation at all levels and deal with possible barriers. This might include looking at family friendly meeting times or mentoring programmes for women.

It is also important not to see this discussion in isolation but rather as part of a larger move to encourage more women in decision making in all aspects of political, economic and social life.

Quality decision making always requires the perspective of a diversity of experiences and backgrounds, and women, who make up more than 50% of the Irish population, are an integral part of this.

Orla O’Connor is director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

Sports bodies to be fined if their boards don’t comply with new gender quota rules>

The majority of men are against gender quotas>

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Caitriona O'Neill and William Gallagher

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