Why gender quotas haven’t gone too far, but rather not far enough

by | Sep 17, 2019

We need more gender quotas, not fewer

The age-old debate around gender quotas still prickles feathers today, but have they gone too far?

Do gender quotas mean we are discriminating against hard-working, qualified individuals? Or are they necessary to elevate those who are already discriminated against?

If there are two candidates for a role, shouldn’t whoever is better qualified get the job despite their gender? Or does that ignore hiring biases and wider issues that may have caused educational or social disparity leading up to that point?

Although gender equality in the workplace has been improving for many decades now, progress is slow. Gender equality certainly hasn’t been achieved across all professional spheres, not to mention across all nations. 

gender quotas

Inequality is still prevalent, especially in certain spheres

In traditionally male spheres we still see vast gender disparity. Females, for example, make up only a quarter of the workforce in STEM fields. 

In the US, only 6.6% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs. For 2018, women held 25.3% of board seats in the largest R100 companies, and just 13% in the smaller R2001-3000 companies. 

In the UK, research shows that 78% of companies have a gender pay gap that favours men. And in the US, for all work done in 2018, women made only 85% of what men made.

So, if it seems clear the problem still persists, don’t we need more radical action?

Of course, in an ideal world, we wouldn’t need quotas. We could hope that pursuing policies like blind hiring, or gender-neutral hiring, would be enough to combat bias in the selection process. But gender inequality in the workplace goes back further than just a bias at the time of hiring. It fits into a wider societal problem, that originates from the gender expectations projected onto us from the day we are born. 

Tackle the roots of inequality in your workplace with our Unconscious Bias Training Workshop. Find out more HERE.

Gender quotas can kickstart the wider societal change we need

This includes informal encouragement of girls into the arts sphere for example, and away from STEM subjects. We can see this when girls are given dolls and colouring pencils as children, and boys are given lego and connex. Or girls being discouraged from science simply because they don’t want to join a class full of boys. Or not seeing role models in the sphere that look like them. 

In 2017, for example, only 14% of those in the UK graduating from Engineering were female. Therefore, employers theoretically had just 14 equal female candidates to choose from, to every 86 male ones. And those 14 females may have experienced further obstacles, such as discrimination, lack of support, or feeling like an outsider. So naturally, a gender-blind screening process doesn’t work ' because sure, as things stand now, employers may well come across more males that seem a better fit. So hiring the more suited candidate, perpetuates, rather than diminishes, the problem.

But it will be a long process over time to change the subtle biases that are ingrained into our attitudes, society and education. So, until then, quotas are a simple and effective solution. And not only to make the current workforce more equal, but to actually instigate, and accelerate, the societal change we need, from the top down. Providing more role models, extinguishing biases and encouraging all work spheres to be gender neutral. So that one day, we can say goodbye to quotas for good.

And look at Belgium, they actually work

For Belgium, gender quotas are nothing new. They are a great example of where pursuing a hard-line policy of gender quotas in government has led to more equality in Politics. 

Over the last 20 years, Belgian legislation has demanded the increase of women in governing bodies. This is through policies such as requiring political parties to have at least a third of their electoral lists with women. And in Belgian parliament, 43% of seats in the House of Representatives are currently held by women. 

Another example of where quotas have seen success in recent years is Germany. Since 2016 it has been mandatory by law that supervisory boards of publicly-listed companies hold a minimum of 30% women. Unsurprisingly, the percentage of females in boardrooms has risen from 25% to 31%.

The ministry of family affairs has also been working on legislation that will require companies with no women in their boardrooms to publicly explain why, and even introduce fines as a penalty. 

We need to keep going and take it further 

So, while some companies have adopted gender quotas, not enough have. Furthermore, their enforcement often isn’t taken seriously enough. We should be following in Germany’s footsteps and pursuing policies to hold companies accountable for gender inequality.

Initiatives like the 2016 Alexander-Hampton review in the UK, that aimed to increase women in leadership positions to 33% in FTSE 350 companies by 2020, have made some progress. But the results have been mixed. Although in 2018 32% of FTSE 100 companies had reached this goal, at the same time, females in executive positions in FTSE 250 companies fell from 38 to just 30 females.

It highlights that we still have a lot of work to do. 

But although the sparks of change have begun, the use of quotas is still sporadic and in many areas not enforced. We need to work on holding people accountable and showing that there are consequences for not collaborating.

So when people argue that quota madness has gone too far, actually they haven’t yet gone far enough.

Moya Greene, ex-CEO of the Royal Mail, sums it up perfectly:

“We see that countries with mandated quotas make change happen; we need to apply the same lesson inside companies and penalise managers who do not meet their internal targets for hiring and promoting women.”

So let's embrace this opportunity to implement quotas, and thus diversify and improve our workforce.

3Plus can help you to change the way you source, attract and hire women. Create a diverse workforce with our Executive Search and Diversity Recruitment Services.

Hanna Greeman Contributor
Hanna is a languages and logistics specialist. She is currently living in Australia working as a freelance writer.

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