Speaker by Various Artists


Gender quotas (and helping journalists with their maths)

by Rachel Boyack and Stephen Judd

TV3 political editor Patrick Gower left his viewers in no doubt on Sunday night as to the consequences of the Labour Party's conference resolution  to work towards representation by equal numbers of men and women, or "man-ban in drag" as he preferred to call it:

The new party rule means Labour's men may have to give up spots in parliament, earned on merit, to female MPs.

Labour's caucus is currently 42 percent female, but the quota means that number will have to rise to 45 percent by 2014, and 50 percent by 2017.

It means Labour's party list will be stacked if required, with women put ahead of men to meet the quota.

He had earlier made a similar claim on Twitter.

It wasn't hard to parse the language -- the context of  a male MP under alleged threat of gender-based deselection is clearly the only one in which you'll ever hear Gower grant that a member has "earned" a position "on merit". But it became apparent to me that Gower's facts were wrong too. So invited Rachel Boyack and Stephen Judd, who'd been discussing it on Twitter, to write a post about the issue. This is it. RB


My Labour Party colleague Stephen Judd and I have been asked by Russell to write a guest post on the Party’s gender equality resolution, which was passed resoundingly on the Conference floor on Sunday morning.  Stephen is the Chair of the Ilam Labour Electorate Committee (LEC), while I am the Region 5 Representative on the Party’s ruling NZ Council, which recommended the resolution to the Conference.

Specifically, we’ve been asked to look at the maths involved; will there be “demotions” of male MPs? as Patrick Gower asserted on Twitter and then on 3 News?

Before I get into the massive factual inaccuracy inherent in Paddy’s tweet (using actual maths), I must make some important statements about the rationale behind the changes.

  1. Under MMP, Labour has been “stuck” at between 30 and 40 per cent female MPs.  Considering the skills and capabilities of our New Zealand women, this just isn’t good enough.
  2. All the International evidence shows that such inequality is a result of structural discrimination.  It’s why we need Maori seats to address structural discrimination for Maori.  It’s why the Union movement exists (to address inherent inequalities in power between workers and employees). Etc, etc.

Most importantly, the argument that by addressing diversity we ignore quality is complete nonsense.  First, all candidates must meet the requirements of the agreed Strategic Selection Criteria, which lists the values, skills and experience needed to be considered for selection as a Labour MP.

Secondly, as I said on the Conference floor on Sunday morning, we need quality and diversity in our candidates.  They are one and the same thing.  The implication that they are not suggests that somehow in New Zealand we have a whole lot of incompetent women who are going to end up being MPs.  That’s a pretty offensive suggestion. 

On Thursday I presented at the Party’s campaign college and I was impressed at the number of women who introduced themselves and said they wished to be a candidate for the Party. These were skilled, capable women with diverse credentials ranging from academia to community leadership.  Many of these women will be great MPs and Party women are telling me they now feel empowered to put their hand up.  The glass ceiling that has disempowered them for so long is gone, and I reckon we will see some exciting and capable women emerge as potential candidates before the 2014 election.

 Now, to the maths.  The spreadsheet below is fairly self-explanatory.  Assumptions made are:

  1. Labour receives 40% of the 2014 Party Vote.
  2. Labour receives 42% of the 2017 Party Vote (this is an increase in PV of 5.01%, the same increase that Labour received between the 1999 and 2002 Elections).

Using the modelling below, you will see that in 2014, with a Party Vote of 40%, Labour will have a total of 48 MPs.  With at least 45% of those MPs being female, there will be 22 women and 26 men.  This is an increase of 6 men on current numbers.

Let me repeat that for you.  An increase of 6 men on current numbers.

Even if the unheard-of happens and equality is reached (look out! the sky is falling!) in 2014, there will still be an increase of 4 men on current numbers.

 4 more men.

At this point in my analysis, I’ve missed the demotions, but perhaps Paddy could be helpful and point them out to me (hint to Paddy: there aren’t any).


You will see from the table above, that based on my assumptions, there could be a scenario in 2017 where there is one less man in caucus following the General Election.  Given that there are always caucus retirements between elections, it would be pretty disingenuous in my opinion to excitedly squeal “demotions, demotions”.  There will be natural attrition.

You can see more of my analysis on twitter by searching for #MathsWithPaddy

Now I’ll throw to Stephen, who I believe is going to lay out why he thinks the Gender Equity Resolution is A Good Thing To Do.

Rachel Boyack


Yes, I am the chair of the Ilam LEC, cultivating that stony ground to eke out a harvest of Labour votes.

More relevantly, I'm a Labour activist who's also a man and a potential candidate. And this weekend's changes don't bother me a bit. In fact, I'm proud of them and happy for them.

I broadly see two kinds of argument playing out here. Let's call them "fairness" and "merit."

If you believe that men and women are equally able to be good MPs, then the current situation is an unfair situation. Reducing the proportion of men to 55% next election and 50% after that isn't wronging men who miss out as a result. It's correcting the wrong done to the women who are already missing out.

To the extent that this might impact me personally, it's only taking away an advantage I should never have had. I expect that my chances of candidacy have diminished -- to a point that reflects my real ability. That's what 50% means. You can't give up on a commitment to equality just because you personally are going to get your free bonus points taken away. When you're a kid, and you get a bigger slice than your sister by accident, and your parents cut a bit off to even up, you might complain, but when you're a grown man, you don't moan about it.

Fairness plays out at a group and individual level. Some might argue that enforcing fairness for women as a group could mean individual men, deserving men, get missed out. Interestingly, that flows into my thinking about "merit".

I've see a lot of comment about merit, about selecting the best, about a fear that we might not get the best with a quota. There's a lot to unpack there: what is merit? What is best? Do voters vote on merit? But let's put that aside for now.

Because I'm a programmer by vocation and I have to explain things to managers a lot, I like to work with very simple demonstrations. So let's conduct a little thought experiment. Assume that merit is about the skills and talents that make you a competent MP. Assume that men and women possess those skills and talents in equal measure to men.

Suppose we have 10 positions to fill. Suppose we pick the top 10 men and the top 10 women available in our pool. Let's grade them in rank order.

Men:     A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J

Women:     A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J

An equal selection looks like this:

Men:     A B C D E 

Women:     A B C D E

Now let's make an unequal 10 person selection, where men get 70% of the positions:

Men:     A B C D E F G

Women:     A B C

You can see that we've lost a D and an E grade person from among the women, and we have an inferior F and G grade person from among the men.

Labour has many thousands of members, balanced more or less 50-50 men and women. It's unlikely that there is much difference in distribution of talent in a pool that big. Even if the bar for MP-worthiness is just 1 in 100, as long as we believe that men and women have equal capability, Labour is going to lose capability if we don't get enough women.

Public Address's own Deborah Russell has often pointed out research showing that having more women on corporate boards improves organisational performance. If you're a gender essentialist, you might argue that's because of some inherent beneficial quality women have that men lack. But I think it's simply that if only the top 3% of women make it compared to the top 7% of men (or whatever numbers you like), and men and women have equal capacity, then the more you strive for equality of representation, the more you replace men with women who are more capable.

Of course as Rachel has pointed out, in any scenario where Labour grows its caucus, we're not going to remove men. We're just going to add more women. And that's a good thing for the capability of the caucus, the party and ultimately the country.

If you check the party constitution, you'll see that the very first statement of party objectives is:

"To elect competent men and women to Parliament and local authorities through free elections for the purpose of giving effect to Party policy and principles."

Competent men and women, folks. Competency comes first.

The new rule is consistent with our objective of electing competent men and women; it's consistent with the belief in the equal capacities of men and women; it's consistent with our princples about equality and equity. And that's why I support it.

Stephen Judd

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