Women in PR show that you don’t need gender quotas

Written by Jim Walsh

Gender quotas in Irish politics is a hot topic. Political parties are now required to have at least 30% female candidates in next year’s general election.

And Taoiseach Enda Kenny has made a promise to have 50% of his cabinet made up of women if he is returned to Government. It is currently just over 20%, four women to eleven men. While in the Dáil itself there are 25 women, 15% of the total deputies.

Politics is certainly a difficult area of employment for anyone wishing to balance work with family life. But making politics more family friendly for both men and women by restructuring the management of the work and actively seeking to change the culture would be far more equitable than seeking to impose gender quotas. Writing in the Sunday Independent last Sunday Carol Hunt described Irish politics as a ‘cold house for women’.

There are many other sectors where it is also difficult to reconcile work and family. Yet women in senior positions in those sectors appear to manage the balance.  Public Relations for example has more than half the PR companies in Ireland managed by women.

And some balance their day jobs with active involvement in the PR representative bodies. This year for the first time there are women leading all three PR representative bodies in Ireland; The Public Relations Institute of Ireland; Public Relations Consultants Association and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (Northern Region).

This phenomenon is not just found in PR. While there is a deficit of women in Leinster House the position in State Boards is a lot better. On the 265 State boards 34% of the members are women, with 21% of the Boards chaired by a woman.

PR work like most commercial service businesses is demanding and can easily eat into personal time. In particular for those in senior positions there is not just the pressure of continuous deadlines from clients and media but a whole range of management demands

I wonder is it the nature of the work or the element of personal satisfaction  provided in PR that attracts women?  Many studies find that job satisfaction is what most people desire in their working environment and certainly the diversity of PR work can provide a high level of personal satisfaction.

Political engagement can be highly satisfying but the environment in which it is delivered is not very attractive to women or indeed many men, gender quotas or not.

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