Down For The Count: Do Gender Quotas Help Working Women?

Opinions are mixed on whether gender quotas work well for reaching parity for working women. To count or not to count, that is the question.Quotas have a checkered history, whether measuring diversity on a number of factors, or concentrating on gender alone and counting the number of working women in an organization or company, compared to the number of working men. There is pushback and there are failures to meet intended goals.Very often women in business —regardless of race, ability, orientation, religion, socioeconomic factors or ideology— have had the experience of being the only woman in the room, or at the conference panel or in the meeting.But many argue about the efficacy of enforcing hiring and retention practices to reach gender parity in the workplace. They claim a qualified candidate is a qualified candidate regardless of identity and that gender makes no difference. Working women will do the same job as working men, they say. It does not matter.But the truth is a fair representation of women in the workplace absolutely does make a difference.Just how we how we reach gender parity by 2025— the goal for Take The Lead— is another topic for debate in all arenas of leadership—from political to corporate to academic and more.[bctt tweet=“A fair representation of women in the workplace absolutely does make a difference.”]Counting how many women are recruited, hired, retained and promoted to the top is the first step in understanding the barriers, facilitation and benefits to gender quotas.Once we have the numbers, what do they tell us?In a 2016 study published in the American Political Science Review, “Gender Quotas and Women’s Political Leadership, Diana Z. O’Brien of Indiana University and Johanna Rickne of the Research Institute for Industrial Economics looked at 15 years of data on local leadership appointments in Sweden’s largest political party,” according to Journalist’s Resource.The findings can be translated to all companies, corporations, organizations and start-ups by substituting the party and political office for any other organization here and abroad.Data suggests quotas for women in politics help promote women in leadership in other sectors as well. “The authors of the study suggest that future research should build upon this study by determining whether other countries and political systems have experienced similar outcomes,” according to the study. Other conclusions:

  • Having a gender quota helped women obtain party leadership positions. The quota “both immediately and permanently improved women’s access to leadership positions in municipalities where fewer women had previously held elected office.”
  • Having a quota did not seem to influence women’s chances of maintaining a leadership post once they acquired it.
  • Having a gender quota strengthened the pool of qualified women eligible for party leadership roles. More qualified, better educated women entered politics after the quota was implemented relative to the number of qualified men.
  • The quota did not increase the diversity of women in leadership roles with respect to age, education or income. Overall, the generational, educational and income levels of women in power remained unchanged before and after the quota.

The study continues, “This research helps dispel the myth that legislative gender quotas have a backlash effect on women obtaining higher positions of power in their political parties, at least in Sweden. There, quotas not only increased the number of women in legislatures, but also seemed to further promote women into leadership roles in the broader political system.”These numbers aren’t just an American concern, but a global one. And we’re not just talking about numbers of women in politics, but business as well. At the recent Women’s Executive Network Leadership Summit in Dublin, Irish women political and business leaders gathered to discuss the gender gap and quotas, according to The Independent.“There is significant inequality right across Irish business, and the only way to address it in any meaningful way is to introduce a series of quotas,” said Rose Hynes of the Shannon Group and Origin Enterprises. “We need to unblock the blockages that are currently stopping women progressing.However, Google’s Director of People Operations in Ireland Helen Tynan, lamented the call for quotas.“It’s pity we have to be talking about gender quotas. I have been in business for 20 years and unfortunately the world is not changing as fast as we would like. I do believe in quotas, but not at the appointment stage. I believe in quotas only at the panel stage for making appointments,” she said.Sean Duffy writes in the Independent: “Bronwyn Brophy, vice president, early technologies EMEA at Medtronics said: ‘I think we need to think of ourselves as equal. It is imperative to have everyone within the organization cognizant of the gender situation within the company. We have tried forced quotas in the past, and what tends to happen is that you have females who are not the best candidate for the job, or they are not suited to the job, and they tend not to stay in the role.’”To find the women who will be filling these quotas who will perform well, you don’t have to look far.Training women at all levels of their career progress in organizations, non-profits and corporations is the mission of Take The Lead through a variety of leadership programs that aim for gender parity in leadership by 2025. Keeping an eye on the numbers and percentages of women in leadership monitors progress toward the goal.As a predictor of gender parity in business for the future, you could start counting for gender at the business school level. More women are seeking admission and enrolling in business schools globally than ever before.“Between 2006 and 2015, the number of women worldwide taking the business school admission test jumped 38 per cent (more than triple that for male test takers), according to the Graduate Management Admissions Council,” writes Jennifer Lewington in the Globe and Mail.“But a ‘persistent gap’ still leaves women under-represented in top leadership positions, according to diversity advocates, with business schools urged to redouble efforts to attract qualified female candidates, recruit top female faculty members and invite successful female chief executive officers into the classroom,” writes Lewington.Some schools are actively recruiting women candidates for the graduate programs in business.“The percentage of women in the MBA program at University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business has climbed steadily over the past three years and now sits at about 35 per cent, according to Liz Starbuck Greer, assistant dean of the school’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School,” writes Lewington.  “It’s good to have a really good mix in the classroom but I want to get up to the 40-per-cent [GMAC mark] if I can,’” Greer said.Once quotas are filled, the challenge is to keep them that way. In Mumbai, India, one financial services company has a distinct plan to increase the number of working women on staff and in leadership positions over the next five years, according to Economic Times.At Edelweiss Financial Services, ”The plan is to stop women from leaving around mid-career, by providing them with mentoring support and charting out a clear career growth path to retain high-potential female professionals. Edelweiss had 13 percent woman staff across levels four years ago from where it has increased the representation to 19 percent. At the senior management level, women number at 10 percent, which the company aims to increase to 20 percent in five years. The company’s headcount is more than 6,000.”According to the Economic Times: “’This is the biggest challenge faced by talent managers globally and more so in India. You do not have women to stay long enough to go through the different business cycles to qualify them for future leadership roles and who have the preparedness and breadth of experience to take on P&L roles,’ said Saundarya Rajesh, founder-president at diversity and inclusion talent strategy consulting firm AVTAR Group.”Edelweiss Group Chariman Rashesh Shah added,”Women do not need any extra advantage to be hired. Most of them are very competent. Organizations just need to create the culture to retain them and pull them into their career.“Joanne Lublin, management news editor at the Wall Street Journal said in an interview with Twin Cities Business that the gender gap at the very top of corporations is real and not going away at any time soon. No matter how you count it, there are not enough women in C-Suites to even come close to equal numbers as men.“Every study that I’ve read suggests we are looking at decades before we are going to see anything close to gender parity in the executive suite,” Lublin said. “But I think what gives me hope and optimism is that there are a number of very committed women in senior level jobs who believe this is part of their role in life to make it happen for younger, less senior women.”Tina Garg, founder and CEO, of Indian company Pink Lemonade Communications, recently told Tech Story abouot her experience being mentored through The U.S. State Department’s Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership. Garg was paired with Belinda Johnson, Airbnb’s Chief Business Affairs and Legal Officer.“Like I’ve always said, when you empower one woman, you plant the ‘giving’ gene in her DNA,” Garg said. “Women always take what’s given to them and multiply and make it better. When we see successful women carving a niche for themselves out there in a man’s world, I believe it kindles the fire in us. Moreover, when women embrace the spirit of supporting other women – who may be at the start of their journey – wonderful things begin to happen.”Count me in.