Extra Lesson: Part I

Monthly Column by Ali Matalon

Minority-level Power held by the Majority Population

Good day fellow Jamaicans. While ‘Extra Lesson’ elicits a particularly dancehall-esque vibe as namesake of Alkaline’s 2016 single, this bad gyal does intend to carry news (be an “informer”)- against Earlan and every artiste’s recommendation. And while I promise to throw down some outside-of-school, feminist-based knowledge, about and around, ‘The System’, I am not proposing to take over from ‘di teacha’, Señor Adidja.

Now I would love to get into reasons why you should read Vybz Kartel’s book but… On the syllabus for today, is the issue of representation: how the majority of Jamaica’s population holds the minority share of power in the country. Why doesn’t it work and what can we do to change it?

The environment: Jamaica’s men aged 30 years and older, dominate sectors of power, most notably in politics and business.

Jamaica’s population is approximately 2.8 million people, with a relatively even split of females and males. Of the overall population, approximately 52% of people are aged between 0 and 29 years old. To be more specific, young adults (aged 18 to 30 years old) represent 22% of the Jamaican population.

In other words: if one were to amalgamate the number of young people, and the number of women aged 30 years or older in Jamaica, they naturally far surpass the number of men above the age of 30. So, why is that not the case in parliament, in the c-suite of banks across the island or in the boardroom?

To put it in perspective: of Scotiabank’s 10 board members, 3 are women. The Development Bank of Jamaica is just as bad with 5 women on a board of 12 people. Even worse? Of the 84 seats in the House of Representative and the Senate (aka 63 in Parliament 21 in Senate), 13 are held by women. Let me write that again for the people reading this as a casual accompaniment to their morning Milo-tea. 13 of 84 members of parliament are women. Eng up.

Youthful disengagement in politics has allowed for a wave of old-age, male-led politics to take hold in an otherwise evolution-fertile ground. While PM Holness is doing an admirable job in creating a more gender-balanced cabinet of government officials and advisors, it’s simply not enough. Nor is the symbolism of female leadership, women like Portia Simpson-Miller and Jackie Sharpe have worked to provide.

There’s simply no way of skirting the fact that, the primary reason for lack of representation of young people and women in positions of power in Jamaica, is outright lack of prioritisation by leadership (at every level) in creating such opportunity.

My proposition is simple: promote deserving women (who already make up 60% of Jamaica’s management force) to top-tier leadership positions, diversify board membership by ensuring that it is reflective of population statistics, and provide young people with greater access to “the room where it happens”.

Quotas are one way to make this happen. But, won’t that mean that less talented people will take jobs from more qualified or capable candidates? The simple answer is no.

IKEA, the largest and most successful furniture retailer, has committed to ensuring that women are paid equally for equal work and represented equally at every level within the organisation. Companies with equal male and female leadership can expect to generate almost a 3% higher return on equity year over year. Similarly, scholars argue that governments have a higher number of female leaders tend to be significantly more inclusive, peaceful and thereby productive than those led exclusively by men.

It’s basic math. More groups of people being represented = better for everybody. Let me write that again for the people reading this as a casual accompaniment to their morning oats porridge. Better for everybody.

Women in Jamaica are earning the majority of the higher education degrees. And, 30% or more young people are unemployed. Societal pressure placed on government and companies to make staffing more inclusive, would force political actors to take greater interest in why young men are being left out of the higher education system, and would force them to invest in their non-university educated but promising young staff members. Further, the new environment, would allow women to more easily take up positions as CEOs or CFOs and maintain greater youth and gender balance organisation-wide.

We can make this happen by quitting the “my voice doesn’t matter” routine, writing conscious music, organising company-wide town hall meetings that demand fair workplaces, and of course, we can lace up our clarks and get to steppin’… All the way to the voter registration office(s) conveniently listed on the Electoral Commission of Jamaica’s website (www.eoj.com). You can also call the EOJ Mondays- Fridays at 1–888–991–8683.

But remember, none of this happens if we don’t keep up the pressure. Soup soup !

PS. This would be the perfect time for G2K and PNP YO to start a ‘Young Voices of Jamaican Politics’ column #justsayin’.