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I believe in quota

March 7, 2018 by

The purpose of gender diversity in an organization is gender diversity itself. If you believe that men and women are equal, more women should be represented in senior management and non-executive roles.

I took this as my key takeaway from a Dutch book about leadership and diversity. Bercan Günel, a headhunter, wrote ‘We hebben al een vrouw’ (We already got a woman), a principled and very practical book.

The percentage of women in boards has admittedly increased significantly in Europe and the US, but only in non-executive positions. In France, Italy, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands it has gone up from one woman for every ten to twenty men in 2003 to percentages of between 27 and 42 for women in boards in 2017, according to the European Institute for Gender Equality. Norway introduced legislation in 2008 that obliged listed companies to reserve at least 40% of their director seats for women.

But far fewer women are appointed to senior management positions. According to The Economist of February 17th 2018 just 7% of the largest firms in Norway have female bosses, only 2% in France, 5% in the US and 6% in Germany.

Many things have been tried to promote women over the past two decades: ambassador networks, lists of high potential women, women networks, monitoring, comply or explain principles in corporate governance, etc. They simply failed to achieve results. There is no reason to expect that this will change over time.

Because of this I have become a supporter of mandatory quota. I think it is the only way to promote this issue to the top of the executive agenda. Voluntary approaches are too slow or don’t work at all, so it is time for this heroic remedy.

The two main objections against mandatory quota are that there is a lack of potential women and that token women are appointed. The first is arguably not true, the second may be but so what? In this stage token women might be necessary and they still can be the right pick for the job. Lets start to really change the gender diversity in boards. We have been talking about it long enough.