Why a 50 per cent female cabinet promotes, not contradicts, meritocracy

Since Trudeau announced that his cabinet would be 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men, there has been a slew of people (mainly men) who suddenly care deeply about merit-based hiring.

“The best candidate should get the job. Period.”

“Cabinet members should be chosen based on competency, not gender.”

Trudeau’s response as to why he made it a point to have equal representation? “Because it’s 2015.”

Granted, there’s more to it than that, and diversity quotas are imperfect solutions to the immensely complicated societal issues of racism and sexism. But Trudeau has taken an enormous stride towards achieving equal opportunity for women and other marginalized groups with his cabinet appointments, whether or not it’s political strategizing.

Yet some will still say, “But women shouldn’t be handed jobs because of their gender!”

Right you are, but the problem with that logic is that neither should men, and it is undeniable that white males have had a stranglehold on power for centuries because of their ethnicity and gender. Quotas have always existed in a way, but they ensured that exclusively white males would hold power by not allowing anyone else to be considered.

“That’s extreme,” you might say. “Things aren’t like that anymore!”

Sure—maybe women are allowed to vote and own land in most countries now, but deeply ingrained male bias still exists. We are taught from a young age, both directly and indirectly, that men are inherently more valuable than women. This lesson comes from all directions: women being portrayed as objects in advertisements and music videos; confident, capable women being scrutinized only for their appearance and being described as “bossy” or “shrill”; women being paid less than men for the same work (yes the wage gap still exists); women being passed over for high ranking positions, and the list goes on.

These are damaging norms that are inescapable in our society, so it is unsurprising that male bias still exists. The fact is that, at this point, women of equal or greater competency than men are far too often overlooked for opportunities because males are consciously, or subconsciously, considered better and smarter simply because of their gender. When two candidates of the same background, one male and one female, are tied, who do think most often gets chosen?

So, no, diversity quotas don’t hand women jobs because they are women—they just give them a shot at the position they’re qualified for because they are forced to be considered.

And the 15 women appointed to Trudeau’s cabinet are absurdly qualified; anyone who believes they do not merit their appointments has obviously not looked at their qualifications (just research Health Minister Jane Philpott and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould). So admit it: if you say that making a point of hiring 50 per cent women won’t get the best people for the job, then you are saying that men are the best people for the job.

“No,” critics may cry defensively. “If they really were the best for the job it would balance out naturally! There might even be more women!”

Sweet summer child, unless you’ve been living under a rock, deep down you know that isn’t true. It isn’t true because of ingrained sexism that tips the balance in men’s favour and maintains a “boys club” mentality. It isn’t true because of how we view women as lesser. It isn’t true because we have not truly, completely attained equality. Not yet.

In an ideal world we would not need quotas because we wouldn’t be taught from an early age that men are better and more capable than women. But we do not live in that world. We can, some day, but only when we collectively make the conscious decision to teach children that men and women are equal through changing the damaging stereotypes perpetuated in the media and in our actions. And that will take time.

In the meantime, though, we live in this world, and diversity quotas are a necessary, effective measure to level the playing field so that people without a vested interest in maintaining the status quo can work towards that ideal world.