MANAGING DIVERSITY – Part 4: Quotas – a necessary evil
“The issue of gender was never my biggest concern; my biggest concern was doing good work. When the feminist movement really got going, I wasn’t an active part of it because I was more concerned with my own mental pursuits.” (Patty Smith)
I make no secret of the fact that I am not a friend of strict quotas – of ANY kind. Quotas are treated with suspicion, mostly with disdain; they often create insecurity and even aggression and place people on the defensive, rather than opening their minds to change. Even so, I view quotas, whether for men, women, homosexuals or anybody else, as a “necessary evil”, as a catalyst for change in societies that don’t introduce it easily or willingly.
The European Commission is currently drafting legislation aimed at forcing Europe’s largest companies to have a quota of at least 40 percent women on their supervisory boards by 2020. This legislation aims to punish non-compliance with fines or other sanctions.
Eleven EU member states as well as the European Economic Area member state Norway have already introduced legal instruments to promote gender equality on company boards. Meanwhile, in two-thirds of the member states, no legal measures were introduced and no significant progress has been made in recent years. It still is up to a member state to decide whether or not they have the right system in place and if they want to keep it.
Research conducted by Korn/Ferry Whitehead Mann for the High Pay Centre found that in countries where quotas had been brought in, there was an immediate rise in female non-executives on boards. But this has not been matched by the number of women entering executive or senior positions. Even though Norway already introduced quotas for women on boards in 2003, there is still no female chief executive running a top company.
Boardroom quotas appear so far to have had little impact on company talent pipelines. The real issue for diversity promoters is how to encourage more women to be promoted to the executive and senior management ranks. There is a danger that governments believe they have fixed the diversity issue by introducing quotas on overall board membership whilst ignoring the inadequacies of women actually running companies or even those leading departments and divisions. Quotas have not been in place long enough in some countries to have had much effect and clearly, as in all times of transition, there has to be tolerance and patience and at least an understanding of what change means to the existing status-quo.
Policy-makers need to guard against exchanging one form of discrimination for another. There is no denying that the issue is a complex one. If for example, a woman is denied an executive board position because she’s a woman, that is clear discrimination. If a man is denied the same for the purposes of equality and because a quota regulation requires that a woman HAS to be hired, is that not discrimination too? Far too many successful women feel undermined and compromised in terms of their real value and would far rather things just change with time because it makes sense and is right, and not because policy dictates it.
A current and rather surprising example of how things can go awry in the fight to do good, comes directly from Wall Street, traditional playing ground of “men in grey suits”! On 1 April 2013, Investment banker, Morgan Stanley, launched a new investment portfolio which will only put money into companies committed to promoting women into corporate board seats.
The initiative is called the parity portfolio, a capital markets investment strategy that only buys into companies that have at least three women on their boards – dubbed “gender-lens investing.” The idea was conceived by Eve Ellis, portfolio manager and a financial adviser with the Matterhorn Group at Morgan Stanley. Together with fellow financial advisor Nikolay Djibankov, the portfolio is designed to do more than just generate returns – it is aimed at generating change in the boardroom by encouraging companies to recruit more female directors. Ms. Ellis was inspired to create the portfolio last summer after combing through several studies that showed companies with women on their boards posted superior financial results. The first to catch her eye was research by the women’s advocacy organization Catalyst, which found Fortune 500 companies with the most women in the top management group had far better financial performances than companies with the fewest women. It has repeated similar studies on the subject since the 1990s. She acknowledges that the research doesn’t prove that more women in leadership positions by itself leads to higher profits, but she believes it is a factor.
Principally, the idea is not a bad one. Again though, this kind of initiative quickly attracts prophets of doom along with many other critics and one of the first points to be raised is the fact that Morgen Stanley should practise what it preaches – they don’t stand to benefit from such an initiative at all, because with just two, they don’t have enough women on their own supervisory board. So when will Morgan Stanley appoint the third woman to their board? And how will the “lucky woman” truly feel about that appointment?
Whichever way one looks at this on-going debate, it seems that quotas for women, and quotas generally, really are a “necessary evil”. What diversity campaigners should strive for in the long run, should be the creation of a mentality that welcomes and embraces fairness and equality because it’s right – the route there may take a long and winding road, but that should be the destination – a place at the end of that road that people go down willingly and with excitement.
Über Marinda Seisenberger:
Marinda Seisenberger ist Speaker, Trainer und Coach und gilt als führende Expertin zum Thema „Diversity“. Der rote Faden „Vielfalt“ zieht sich auch durch ihren Karriereweg. In ihrer Heimat Südafrika leitete sie drei Institute für Erwachsenenbildung und führte die Abteilung Corporate Communications eines global tätigen afrikanischen Entwicklungskonzerns. 1999 wurde sie Partner einer Sprachschule in Deutschland. Unter dem Slogan „Take Your Brand Abroad“ unterstützt sie heute als Speaker, Trainer und Business Coach zahlreiche Geschäftskunden, darunter auch DAX-Unternehmen, im Ausland erfolgreich zu arbeiten. Sie ist überzeugt: Vielfalt ist ein strategischer Erfolgsfaktor und Innovationstreiber für Unternehmen. In ihren praxisbezogenen Trainings bringt Marinda Seisenberger Mitarbeitern die Bedeutung interkultureller Unterschiedlichkeiten und Vielfalt nahe und zeigt, wie unbewusste geschäftsschädigende Verhaltensweisen im Ausland erfolgreich zu vermeiden sind. Ihre mitreißenden Keynotes zu den Themen „Vielfalt im Flow“ überzeugen durch ihr Know-How und ihre Leidenschaft zu ihrem Thema. Marinda Seisenberger ist GSA Certified Professional Speaker und Mitglied der German Speakers Association (GSA). Mehr Informationen auf http://www.marinda-seisenberger.de.