We Should Have a Quota for Women on Corporate Boards
Last updated: February 12, 2018
Workplace diversity is an important topic that deserves more discussion. While there have long been initiatives to get more women involved in higher-level management, most boards are overwhelmingly male. In fact, a rather large number of boards have little or no female representation - and this proves to have a chilling effect on the ability of other women to obtain positions of leadership in those companies. As long as this continues, it may be impossible to achieve many other goals that are related to gender parity in the workplace - including the long-discussed possibility of equal pay.
One possible solution floated for the lack of female representation on corporate boards is a government-mandated hiring quota. Requiring every board to have a certain percentage of female members might be the quickest way to solve that board-level disparity, but it is not without its own pitfalls. There are certainly arguments in favor of taking this step towards correcting a long-standing issue, but there seem to be just as many valid arguments against mandating any kind of quota. It is only through examining both sides of the issue that one can create an informed opinion.
Women are Under Represented on Corporate Boards
The poor representation would be bad enough on its own, but there are many businesses that have no women at all on their boards. Many of the giants in the tech world, for example, don't have a single female board member. These companies consistently create and market products for women and hire female employees, but women are excluded from the major decision making process. This not only makes it harder for female voices to be heard, but it also decreases the likelihood of women being able to find mentors and others to help them reach the top of the corporate ladder. When women aren't represented, there's very little chance for this situation to change.
Take a look at the tech industry, for example. A CNET study states that Women make up just thirty percent of the workers in that sector, yet they also hold about twenty-three percent of the leadership positions in companies like Microsoft. That might not be exact parity, but that's incredibly close. Can you imagine numbers like that fifty years ago, or even twenty years ago? Women have made incredible strides forward in fields that they might not have been able to penetrate only a few decades ago, and for that they should be applauded.
It's dangerous to look at raw numbers and make assumptions about representation. If you go down that rabbit hole, you'll have to start making sure that every corporate board in American has an even number of people specifically so that raw number parity can be reached. That's not only an overreach, but a laughable goal.
Diversity Makes Business Better
If diversity is beneficial, it should hold that diversity at the board level is even better. When women are given a voice in leadership, they're better able to parlay those valuable insights found at the ground level into company-wide initiatives. Creating a more diverse board gives more room for thought, more impetus for innovation, and a better connection to the people who work in the business. Diversity is an incredible benefit for the any business that chooses to embrace the concept.
It should also hold that if diversity is good for individual businesses, it's good for the economy as a whole. The things that drive innovation for one company should be able to drive innovation across the board. While there is certainly nothing that says innovation cannot come from a gender-imbalanced board, the numbers don't lie when it comes to the improvement brought by a more diverse place of work.
There's also the uncomfortable fact that sometimes diversity leads to less engagement according to Harvard's Robert Putnam;. Is this a good thing? Even the researcher behind that study would so that it is not. It is, however something that should be studied when one is considering forcing a higher level of diversity via quotas on a business' leaders. If diversity can hurt as well as help, it should be obvious that forcing it is not always the solution.
Finally, that natural and forced diversity are not the same thing. Putting more women on a board to promote diversity may provide a solution with good optics, but it doesn't do anything to make the company more accepting or to improve the diversity of those in the lower ranks. Forced diversity is always about perception, and the benefits of diversity that were listed above simply won't be gained in that kind of situation.
Quotas are Inherently Helpful
How do we know that quotas are inherently helpful? It's easy - all we have to do is look at the sectors where quotas are already in place. Look at higher education, for example - not only are quotas in place, but they've been defended time and again as a necessity. Today's world sees more women and more people of color in universities than ever before, and that's something that's largely due to the quota system. Likewise, government positions are less overwhelmingly white and male than they have been in the past, and that's largely due to a government that embraces diversity and puts systems into place to make sure that the workplace remains diverse.
It all comes down to money, though, and the Wall Street Journal writes that even large businesses agree that diversity targets are worth pursuing. Businesses that set targets and quotas are able to move ahead of the natural curve and put more minority voices in positions that make a difference. Simply put, quotas are already embraced as necessities in both the public and private sectors.
Another article from Forbes states that even those who argue that quotas can be helpful have to be mindful of the drawbacks. Quotas can, for example, be an easy way for a business to impose limits rather than for it to embrace diversity. If every business is required to have one woman on the board, what is stopping businesses from simply creating a token board position and then pointing to that position as its sole gesture towards a more diverse workplace? What's to stop the minimum percentage from become the maximum amount of minority representation a business will allow? Minds don't change because they are forced and some people are very good at manipulating the system to make sure that things won't progress.
It's not possible to pretend like all quotas are good because that statement is just too broad. Even an admission that a gender quota for boards is good requires several logical leaps. Putting quotas into practice could very well be harmful, yet those in favor want to experiment with the economy in the name of theory.
Putting a Quota in Place Would Help Women
All one has to do is to look at businesses that have female CEOs to see the difference in workplace culture. It's hard to say that a woman doesn't have a place as a manage or a team leader, for example, if there is already a woman running the company. Mirroring is a basic part of instruction, so setting the tone for any place of work has to involve realistic demonstrations at the top. If there are no women leaders to look up to, there are going to be no examples for women to follow when they are working at lower levels of the company.
Would a quota on boards help women in general? Of course. Not only would it put more women at higher positions, but it would help to get rid of any presumptions that a woman cannot lead. Setting quotas will directly lead to more diverse boards and better gender diversity.
What's even more troubling, according to the The Harvard Business Review, is that diversity movements often have the opposite of their intended impact. If a quota is put into place, the most likely outcome may well be that men double down on holding onto what power that they have - and that women might find themselves even more ostracized in some workplaces.
Perhaps most of all, these quotas hurt women because they take away from their individual accomplishments. If a quota is put in place, it will be easy to dismiss any female board member as someone who got a job only because of diversity regulations. This negates any accomplishment the woman may have and sets a dangerous tone for the rest of the business. Women should be allowed a place at the table and they should be respected for the work that got them there.