Last week, the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) edged closer to requiring companies that are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange to impose gender quotas on their boards and in executive offices. The OSC wants more women in prominent positions. On a yearly basis, the companies would need to disclose the number of their female directors and executives, and to establish goals for increasing those ranks. The companies would be expected to justify their gender policies and to open to review the process by which directors are chosen. The new proposals stop short of demanding quotas. But that option is the next logical step should OSC’s ‘encouragement’ not work.
According to the Globe and Mail, “It’s hard for reasonable business people to object to a rule that takes such a comparatively light-touch approach to an important issue.” Nonsense. It is not difficult at all.
Privately-owned companies are personal property as much as privately-owned dwellings are. Homeowners have a basic right to use their own property, including to determine who can have access. Business owners have a similar right to use their property, including who is hired or promoted. A government agency may use the law to usurp a business owner’s property rights just as it may use the law similarly to strip a homeowner of control. In both cases, the agency would be violating the individual’s right of private property. If the injustice seems more blatant vis-a-vis the homeowner, that is because a double standard is applied in terms of the law’s approach and society’s attitude toward personal as opposed to commercial property. Both are private property and they do not belong to the government.
The justification for replacing for this “reasonable” coercion will be phrased in noble terms, as government intrusion always seems to be. The gender card will be played. The argument will run: women constitute 50 percent of the population; thus, if women were truly equal, 50 percent of directors and officers would be women. If the percentage is far lower, then clearly women are not equal. According to the Globe and Mail, “Women make up just 12 per cent of directors on the boards of major publicly traded companies in Canada.” Therefore, Canadian women are oppressed and unequal.
This argument is false and reflects nothing so much as a political and dangerous shift in the definition of “equality.”
Equality used to mean equal access to opportunity: women wanted their persons and property fully and equally protected under the law. They wanted to have the same access as men did to public institutions, such as universities and the courts. One of the proudest accomplishments of the 20th century was to erase gender distinctions from the law. But, then, those distinctions were gradually reinserted.
Why? Because politically-correct feminism faced a problem several decades ago. In the 60s and 70s, most legal barriers to women entering all aspects of society had been swept away. Yet “imbalances” continued. There were far fewer female CEOs of corporations, for example. The imbalance was viewed as proof positive that women were still oppressed because a true equality of opportunity would have rendered an equality of results. Thus law needed to favor women through programs such as affirmative action and quota systems. Equality ceased to be about equal treatment under the law and became a cry for privilege backed by government force or threat thereof. This was the first major way in which the new equality differed from the old: it embedded gender privilege into the law.
A second major divergence was the further collapse of the traditional distinction between “public” and “private.” Equality of access no longer referred to public institutions for which women were taxed. It began to include privately-owned ones as well, such as businesses. Of course, forcing a business to treat women “fairly” meant taking away the owner’s right to hire and fire according to his own judgment. Certain rights with regard to conducting business were transferred from the individual to government. More accurately, they were usurped by government.
Today, almost two generations of women have been raised on a so-called “level playing field” that has been provided partly by equal access and partly from privilege. Yet there are still far fewer women than men as directors in board rooms. How can this be?
A pointedly unexplored explanation is that ’60s feminists were flatly wrong. Equal opportunity does not render equal results; it renders unequal results because outcomes depend on many factors other than the equality of either opportunity or access. For example, outcomes depend on the preferences of the individuals involved, preferences that differ widely not only from gender to gender. Consider how few female firefighters exist. This is not because women are barred from the profession. Indeed, fire departments actively recruit them in order to comply with affirmative action. The lack of female firefighters may be due to nothing more than the well-documented tendency of women to choose less dangerous, less physically demanding jobs that allow them time for their families. In all likelihood, the firefighting imbalance has nothing to do with inequality of opportunity even though there is a marked inequality of results.
Dr. Mark Cooray captured the difference between equality of opportunity and equality of results. Cooray wrote, “Equality of opportunity is…[n]o arbitrary obstacles should prevent people from achieving those public positions which their talents fit and which their values lead them to seek. Neither birth, nationality, colour, religion, sex nor any other equivalent characteristic should determine the public opportunities that are open to a person – only talent and achievement. Thus, equality of opportunity simply spells out the concept of equality before the law.”
By contrast, “[e]quality of outcome is a radically different concept. Equality of opportunity provides in a sense that all start the race of life at the same time. Equality of outcome attempts to ensure that everyone finishes at the same time. To slightly change what the Dodo said in Alice in Wonderland, “Everybody must win and all must have prizes”. That is the goal of radical socialism. Everyone must be a winner, everyone must be equal. Socialists do not really point towards absolute equality but they point to vague ideas of fairness and justness.”
The ideas of fairness and justness are vague because sharply defining them would reveal unfairness and injustice. For one thing, to achieve an equality of results requires government to strip people (especially business ones) of the right to use their own property; it requires a forced redistribution of ‘rights’, wealth and power. An equality of results can only occur through social control by which one group of people benefit at the expense of another group. Indeed, as evidenced by the current lack of women firefighters and CEOs, even then an inequality of results continues. The imbalance doesn’t necessarily say anything about women’s equality: it may reveal nothing more than women’s preferences. It may reveal nothing more than freedom of choice.