Quotas should be introduced in Britain to make sure average women succeed in the workplace as often as mediocre men, Cherie Booth QC said this weekend.
The leading barrister and wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair argued in an appearance at the Hay Festival that “less exceptional women” are hampered in business more than their male equivalents.
Ms Booth said it was essential to “accelerate” the careers of women and redress the gender imbalance in the workplace.
“We call it positive action because discrimination has a negative connotation,” she said. “I think that’s always a dangerous thing, the suggestion that people are not worthy. I am in favour of quotas. I think if we wait for it to happen naturally, I think it’s going to take a long time.”
She said that “particularly in politics” it would take a long time to make things equal unless action was taken. She added: “One of the things I was proudest about is Tony introducing all-women shortlists for the Labour Party.
“There were more than 100 women who did the job absolutely as well as the men. If a few women didn’t do the job quite as well, believe me there are a lot of men who didn’t either. I think the problem is, exceptional women will always succeed. But there are plenty of less exceptional men who succeed.
“Until we get the less exceptional women succeeding equally, we do not have full equality. We have to do something to accelerate that.”
A supportive husband is also an important factor in the success of a woman in the workplace, Ms Booth said. She was speaking at the literary festival alongside Hilary Heilbron, a barrister who has written a biography of her mother, Rose Heilbron, England’s first female judge.
Dame Rose was born in Liverpool, and Ms Booth joked that the two of them had shown there was “something about women from the North West” that helped them succeed.
“The number of them [High Court judges] who were what my husband might call 'bolshy scousers’ is quite incredible,” she said. “They never give up and they never lie down and die.”