Here’s the real way to have proper equality

'The job's yours!'... but we need to guard against the idea of gender quotas, says Sharon Griffiths.

'The job's yours!'... but we need to guard against the idea of gender quotas, says Sharon Griffiths. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Gender quotas are pointless, says Sharon Griffiths. What we need is equality of opportunity.

Well, ladies, do you really want to join a male voice choir? Not many opportunities for sopranos, you would have thought.

In the latest piece of nonsense in the battle for gender equality, Derbyshire's chief constable has severed all ties with the Derbyshire Constabulary Choir, because, yes, they don't include women even though they've offered to start a ladies' choir as well. As Derbyshire has one of the worst gender pay gaps in the country you'd think the chief constable would have more pressing problems to deal with than getting altos in among the baritones.

Equality is a desperately serious issue and such trivialities do nothing to help.

I was once turned down for a TV researcher's job, for which I was ideally qualified, because the team of eight already had one woman and the editor said they didn't need another…

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(In the same year I was refused credit to buy a TV set unless I got a man – any man – to sign the forms.)

That was a long time ago but still makes me angry. So of course I'm passionately for anything that boosts women's job opportunities.

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And yet…

I care about equality but not preferential treatment. I want women to have the same chances as men, not better – because that's just replacing one unfairness with another. And no it doesn't matter that it's righting a historical injustice because that's not the fault of the men who are here now, so why handicap them?

I'm the mother of sons and want them to have equal chances too.

All-women shortlists are pointless, and patronising. Quotas for women in top jobs or on boards are meaningless and can easily backfire. Promote a woman above her capabilities just because she's a women and you set the cause of equality back by another decade at least.

The latest wizard wheeze from the BBC is to have a 50/50 quota of men and women experts in news and current affairs programmes.

Does that mean the BBC can dictate which expert other organisations provide? Will we occasionally be left with women who know quite a lot but maybe not quite as her male colleagues.

Even if she has a brain the size of the planet and is the greatest living expert on everything, will we believe her? Or will we think she's just there because she's a woman and sneer dismissively?

Which does no one any good.

Maybe they'll have to keep a score of men/women chalked on the wall of the newsroom. And that's before we start on bias of colour and religion, sexuality, disability – the list goes on.

What we should aim for is equality of opportunity for everyone. We need to encourage women into top jobs and encourage their confidence – new research in America proved that men are more likely to think they're cleverer than everyone else and women are more likely to think everyone's cleverer than they are – even when there's absolutely no reason to think that way.

Once we have opportunities as equal as we can, then we can all accept that often the best man for the job is a woman.

But sometimes – sorry, sisters - it might actually be a man. Especially in a male voice choir.

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