Positive discrimination: Bringing gender equality to the workplace

Promoting Gender Equality in the Workplace: The Power of Positive Discrimination

The issue of gender equality in the workplace has gained significant attention, with both government and private companies taking steps to address Ireland's concerning gender imbalance, particularly in management and executive positions. The concept of 'positive discrimination' has emerged as a strategy to rectify this disparity and promote a more diverse workforce.

Positive discrimination refers to the practice of favoring a qualified woman over an equally qualified man when applying for a job, with the aim of addressing gender imbalances in specific sectors. This approach ensures that companies prioritize diversity while still hiring the most suitable candidate for the role.

Statistics from an Irish Times article in November 2017 revealed that only slightly more than three out of five women are employed in Ireland, compared to nearly nine out of ten in other countries. This disparity highlights the seriousness of the issue and the need for proactive measures.

Critics argue that positive discrimination overlooks merit and compromises the selection of the most qualified candidate. However, this viewpoint does not accurately reflect the intent behind this strategy. Companies always prioritize hiring the most competent candidate, but in cases where equally qualified individuals apply, positive discrimination ensures the selection of a female candidate, thus fostering a more balanced and diverse workplace.

While embracing the policy of favoring female candidates is crucial, it is equally important to investigate the root causes of the significant gender gap in employment participation. Studies indicate that Irish girls perform on par with or surpass boys at the primary and secondary levels in most subjects. This trend continues through college, suggesting that education is not a contributing factor to the workplace imbalance.

Research also shows that women's employment participation remains comparable to men's until they reach the age of 30, after which it declines. The 2016 World Economic Forum gender gap report identified Ireland as a leader in educational attainment but ranked the country 49th in terms of low workforce participation rates.

The primary reason for this gender gap lies in Irish culture itself. The age at which Irish women experience a decline in workplace participation—30—is closely aligned with typical childbearing age. While men's involvement in child-rearing has increased over the past two decades, the number of stay-at-home fathers in 2017 was significantly lower than the number of women fulfilling the same role.

Two major factors contribute to this discrepancy: the high cost of childcare and the gender pay gap. Childcare expenses in Ireland are exorbitant, often making it more economically feasible for one parent to stay at home. Furthermore, the fact that men, on average, earn 13.9% more than women perpetuates this dynamic.

Irish culture also places the burden of childcare primarily on women, as evidenced by maternity and paternity leave policies. Women receive six months of leave, while men are granted only two weeks. Research indicates that countries with high female workforce participation tend to offer more shared leave for both fathers and mothers, further elucidating Ireland's situation.

Ireland has made significant efforts to address gender imbalance in various sectors. In 2016, Minister for Sport Patrick O'Donovan acknowledged the gender disparity in national governing bodies and mandated that 30% of these bodies comprise women. In the Civil Service, Minister Paschal Donohue took steps to rectify the severe gender imbalance, resulting in increased female representation in top positions.

Efforts have also been made in academia, where female professorships accounted for just 20% in 2017. Real progress has been observed, particularly within the last year. The government has recently passed the General Scheme of Gender Pay Gap Bill, which promotes wage transparency in larger companies initially, with plans to extend it to smaller ones.

While progress is being made, there is still much work to be done. Companies and businesses have a crucial role to play in this process by implementing positive discrimination policies and striving for gender balance within their own organizations.

HERO Recruitment, as an equal opportunities employer, fully supports these initiatives. For more information on the exceptional career opportunities available, please contact HERO Recruitment Galway at (091) 730022, Cork at (021) 2066284, or Dublin at (01) 6190279. You can also reach us via email at and connect with HERO on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

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