The Question of Quotas
BlogThe Question of Quotas

- Eleanor Loudon, CEO, Engineers Without Borders Australia

This week I attended a great event spotlighting International Women’s Day 2019, hosted by GHD, where Tracey Spicer was the keynote speaker. She spoke well and her thoughts resonated with those in the room. One particular point raised, and which was again discussed in the Q&A session afterwards, was the use of targets versus meritocracy. This resonated with me.

At the EWB Australia National Council last year we soft launched our “Redefining Engineering” report; a research piece which explored tangible ways to encourage greater diversity in the sector. At the event one of our professional members asked me what I thought of targets or quotas. Our report didn’t include reference to them - our research showed strongly that by aligning values and focusing on the social and environmental outcomes that engineers achieve, more women are drawn to the profession.

All this is very true, but it’s not the whole story. I do believe that targets are an important intervention until gender diversity is the norm. In the engineering sector where we struggle to engage, and then struggle further to retain women, we need to implement targets to hold us to account. If the sector was already more diverse, merit-based recruitment would mean more women in the sector. But when it isn’t diverse – as is the current state of play - inherent unconscious biases mean that women continue an uphill battle throughout their careers. 

With quotas in place, skilled, capable women are sought after, rather than having to fight for a seat at the table. Targets should be set not only for employment but also for participation in key events, such as engineering conferences and workshops, so that as a sector we proactively find ways to make sure that women are there. 

Targets across the engineering sector will hold us to account and will fast track the change that is needed, often debated – but taking far too long.