Can We Legislate Social Change? Maybe. Maybe Not.

This week we’re releasing an episode of the podcast with the wonderful Katie Davey of Femme Wonk.

Katie and I had the interesting kind of conversation where you, as a rule, agree on the destination but disagree on the route. One may take the scenic route while the other prefers the conventional highways and thruways. Often it was vice versa.

In the social change space quotas are a hot topic for debate.

The government space is ground 0 and from there we go to boards or leadership teams of our largest companies and then on to specific jobs.

Quotas in government are a fairly straight forward request: there should be equal representation of men & women within cabinets, houses, parliaments or whatever system your government uses.

Some nations are philosophically different than others and are at different times in the nations history. For example Canada, as a rule, is far more likely to implement sweeping quotas like the one above than a country like Saudi Arabia. Some nations will move quickly, like Northern European nations, some will move slowly and some will never organize that way at all.

It begs the question: can we legislate social change?

Can culture change be bestowed upon us from on high? Can the changes we want to make in social justice and equal representation really be part of the legal code without being a part of the social fabric? Should the government have the power to dictate what social changes we implement and should they also have the right to punish those who disagree?

The ‘Yes’ vote would say yes, you can legislate social change or at the very least get the ball rolling. The culture is not moving fast enough and if we need to legislate in the short term at least that will get 50% representation of women in houses of government. From there we can work on those who disagree and build it in to the fabric of the culture. The ‘Yes' vote also might say that it’s a speed problem: we don’t have the desire as a culture to move as quickly as justice demands. All fair points.

The ‘No’ vote would say that culture change has to be organic and if it isn’t organic it will die. The ‘No’ vote also has a fundamental distrust of the government’s competency to implement something as wide-ranging and broad as social change. I think back to Congress’s complete and total tech incompetency when questioning Mark Zuckerberg or a senator describing how Facebook’s Libra was as dangerous or more than the ‘greatest innovation of the 21st-century….9/11.” (Come again?)

Perhaps if we are to really change the culture we need to do the hard work on the ground. We need to tell the story of social and culture change in a way that makes it completely obvious what a benefit to society equal representation would be. We need to encourage diversity in government and in the private sector and we need to discover why certain people enjoy the career paths they do and empower them to do so. If THEN we find unequal representation in certain fields, then so be it, we’ve been empowered to choose and that’s where the dice fell.

But if specific groups are excluded intentionally and walls are erected we need to ensure this isn’t possible long-term.

So, can we legislate social change?


Maybe not.