THE FIRST ever female head of the IMF has warned Irish women of the danger of becoming complacent in the fight for equal rights.
Christine Lagarde said female participation in politics and business is still too low in Ireland and she encouraged women not to “take things for granted”.
“Assume that you can do just as well as everybody else, including boys. If people don’t respect you or accept you, leave them to it, they don’t deserve you,” said Ms Lagarde in Dublin today.
The former French Finance Minister is in favour of quotas, but this was not always the case, saying in the past she found them “offensive”. However, she now feels they should be implemented temporarily to kick-start increased female involvement in politics.
“Once a threshold has been reached… we can do away with quotas and demonstrate on our own merits that we can be trusted, that we can contribute, that we deserve to be elected, hired or promoted,” she stated.
She cited the French Senate and Nordic countries as examples of where gender quotas have been effective in increasing female representation in parliament and on company boards.
“At the end of the day, people will have to be convinced that [women] bring something to the table,” Ms Lagarde added.
As her visit coincides with International Women’s Day, she will meet with a number of eminent Irish women today.
Despite the advancements of women, Ms Lagarde feels like we still have a long way to go to achieve full equality.
“If you look at the payslip of a woman and the payslip of a man doing the same job, I can bet you that there is at least a 15, if not 20 per cent, difference between the two. So yes we must continue to fight and we must enlarge the circle of those who fight with us.”
She recalled how her own mother was unable to open a bank account without her father’s permission, “not that long ago”.
Ms Lagarde’s path to becoming one of the most influential women in the world was not an easy one, saying she often faced “scepticism and cynicism”.
“You would walk into a room… and people sitting there say or think to themselves ‘Hmm, she’s just a woman, she has no idea, but let’s be polite, let’s listen’.”
For women who are starting their careers, she advised: “Never give up, grit your teeth and smile.”