Are Boardroom Quotas A Good Idea?
France is joining Norway by adopting the quota approach for achieving gender parity on Boards. ForbesWoman/Forbes.com has asked for views on whether the US should follow suit, and heated debate has ensued — and keep in mind this is a LinkedIn group with a female membership.
Here is what I have added to the debate:
“It has been interesting to read this discussion, and it is good to see the counter-balancing points of views expressed so honestly. I would add the following:
First, there is a body of research that shows that people tend to like/trust/promote/etc. those who are similar to themselves, and that this is largely subconscious. In the context of this topic, familiarity does not breed contempt, but rather signals a known and therefore “safe” entity. Given our starting point of male-dominated C-suites and Boardrooms, achieving greater diversity requires shining a spotlight on and fighting the tide of a natural human tendency.
Second, in order to fight this tide, it does seem increasingly clear that there is a need for greater action since the pace of change is indeed very slow. While we absolutely should help other women to learn how to help themselves in navigating their way to the top, it is also important to recognize that this is not just about “fixing the women.” The organizational mindset needs to change as well in order to be equally conducive to the success of people in the minority group, in this case, women. Frankly, it is in companies' interest to show women (and other minority groups) that there is a clear path to the top, should they wish to pursue it; indeed, it is very expensive to train up talent without being able to retain it.
However, just because something is in a company's interest does not mean that it will happen unassisted. Again, this is human nature: just because we know that exercising four times a week is good for us does not mean most people will do it. Inertia and a host of other things get in the way, and most of us probably need a personal trainer to help make it happen.
If temporary affirmative action style quotas are deemed too controversial a way to jump start things in the US, then we should at least require a certain number of candidates to be female, establish “best practice” targets/guidelines, and institute a way to publicize the progress or lack thereof of specific companies. As they say, you get what you measure, and we all work best toward deadlines.
Finally, whichever way the world goes on the issue of Boardroom quotas (or not), a strong emphasis must be placed on activity and opportunity creation in the senior management ranks. Personally, I believe this is where the greatest difference can be made since Boards are by definition a step removed from the running of the company. And enhancing this pool of senior talent will help address the supply side issue associated with achieving Boardroom gender diversity.”