Leonie V. Still

Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Place of Publication

Perth, Western Australia


Still, L. (1995). Women and leadership working paper series: Paper no. 3: merit or obligation. Perth, Australia: Edith Cowan University.


The issue of merit or obligation concerning women's progress in employment in general, and in organisations in particular, gained renewed impetus in late 1994 with the push to have more women in politics. Australia and New Zealand led the world when establishing the right of women to vote, but are at present only slightly ahead in terms of women's representation in national and State Parliaments despite the centenary of women's suffrage (Coopers and Lybrand, 1994). Partly as a result of this lack of progress, the Australian Labor Party, at its 1994 National Conference, passed a motion to guarantee women a 35% share of winnable State and Federal seats by the year 2002 (Kingston, 1994). This action led to a flurry of activity with targets or quotas being suggested in a wide range of areas including senior management positions in private enterprise and the proportional representation of women on private sector boards (Jopson, 1994). With one action, the equity climate had shifted and quotas, rather than merit, had suddenly become a part of the mind-set in discussions on women's progress. With all this renewed interest, then, the question to be addressed in this paper is: should women's employment and career progress be on the basis of merit, or does society have a obligation to remedy the ills of the past and offer opportunities on the basis of social, political and economic duty? Discussion will focus mainly on the public service because this domain has been to the forefront in fostering promotion on the basis of merit.