“I have been reflecting on the universal applause of the doubling of the number of women in our federal parliament recently.  This came, of course, with the elevation of Malcolm Turnbull to the Prime Ministership.  And while I think that any advancement in the number of women holding the most senior positions in our public offices is truly worthy of celebration (given it seems do damned hard to get there), is it really worth celebrating without just a little deeper reflection?

There are now four women in the Cabinet – yes, just four.  Doubling seems a significant rise, but doubling saw the number increase from just two to four.  Two was itself was a recent doubling from one, where our Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop had the unenviable task of (possibly) representing the aspirations of women everywhere.  We were told at the time that there were good and talented women ‘knocking on cabinet’s door’ to which the obvious retort must surely have been then OPEN IT! It seems that the door has been opened just ajar; just sufficiently enough to think there is hope for some future change.  But as our representation remains below 30 percent, urgent action is required not only to attract and retain women in Parliament, but in Cabinet.

As the Canadian Prime Minister stated upon appointing an equal number of women and men in his ministry he simply stated that it made sense because ‘it’s 2015’.  Hooray!  The suffragettes, who were arguing for equal rights and female emancipation at the beginning of the century before last, must surely be rolling in their graves, thinking that their struggles would have seen these battles well and truly won.
Sadly, it seems not, and much work remains to be done.  Women for Election Australia recently addressed two important women leadership conferences – one involving members of parliament and the aspiring, the other a group of senior and experienced women from the public and business sectors.   MPs and business women alike continue to express an ongoing frustration that there are too few women present in the upper echelons of decision-making – in cabinets and in boardrooms so necessary to bring about the social and structural change required to support real equality.

Depending on political affiliation (and Women for Election is not partisan), the amazing women we met differ slightly in their views, but there definitely a growing consensus that quotas are the only real way to advance this overdue outcome.  It matters in equity terms but importantly is also matters in economic terms.  Involving women in decision-making is a proven way to improve performance.  Regulation is often used as a ‘blunt instrument’ to change behaviour.  We believe it’s time not only to think about introducing quotas in our boardrooms, but for our elected representatives, too.  It’s time.  The year is 2015”