New Diversity and Inclusion Forum to host online debate on gender quotas

Virginia Mendez, an author, international speaker and founder of the Feminist Shop in Belfast

THE first-ever digital debate from the new NI Diversity and Inclusion Forum takes place this Thursday at 7pm, when business leaders and HR professionals will vote on the motion ‘We need gender quotas in the Northern Ireland workplace’.

'The Great Debate', facilitated by Barry Phillips, chair of award-winning Antrim-based workplace compliance company Legal Island, will focus on the pros and cons of one of the most controversial topics relevant to today’s workplace.

Business consultant Neasa Hunter, director of Q Solutions, will go to head to head with Virginia Mendez, an author, international speaker and founder of the Feminist Shop in Belfast.

Both professionals will voice their separate perspectives (Hunter is against implementing quotas while Mendez is in favour) in what will be an invaluable discussion on closing gender gaps and how it benefits business.

Barry Phillips who created the Diversity and Inclusion Forum earlier this year and has welcomed almost 400 members, said: “This is going to be a really interesting debate. We have two passionate feminists with very different views on gender quotas in the workplace.

“For so long many people have been saying that quotas are the only way to redress the major gender imbalance we have in the Northern Ireland workplace especially in senior positions. But quotas are highly contentious and could be very unwelcome in a recession.

Barry Phillips, chair of Legal Island and facilitator of The Great Debate

“Having spoken to a number of people about quotas, many seem on the fence or admit to being poorly informed on the subject.

“This debate gives them the opportunity to weigh-up in a short period of time the pros and cons and then declare their position. We'll be taking a poll of the audience's opinion both before and immediately after the debate takes place.”

Neasa Hunter, who will argue against implementing gender quotas during the online debate, says feminism has always had a role in her home place.

A champion of equality, she said: “I grew up in a feminist household, with my older sister being formative in shaping many of my early views. My parents challenged stereotypes and wanted me to think laterally. I have always championed women's rights and have always been proud to call myself a feminist.

“I am against gender quotas in the workplace as they are naïve and patronising and do not address the fundamental issues as to why there are gender imbalances in the first place.”

Virginia Mendez has devoted her working life to pursuing her passion of challenging kids and adults to “unlearn constrictive stereotypes”. She will support gender quotas in the workplace.

She said: “There is an unquestionable underrepresentation of women at the top of business. That lack of diversity is a problem in itself but also creates a natural resistance to further progress. Quotas are a useful temporary tool to accelerate change.

“I have always been a feisty advocate for justice, but I used to hate the word feminism and reject everything that I thought it carried with it. It is a growth mindset journey to allow yourself to change your mind, and it has taken me a lot of conversations, reading and researching becoming the unapologetic feminist I am now.”

To attend the online event viewers can register as a member at the Diversity and Inclusion Discussion Forum which is also free by going to

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