Gender quotas: are they working?

Quotas have provided a lightning rod for debate about gender balance in the corporate sector ever since I started writing about the subject, covering such events as the pioneering Women’s Forum in Deauville and latterly our own Women at the Top conference. In recent years, even those who initially opposed firm quotas – such as Anne Lauvergeon of Areva and Christine Lagarde, France’s finance minister – have started to come round to the idea.

The implementation of legislation in Norway, Spain and France has finally allowed advocates and opponents of quotas to measure their effectiveness. The FT’s interactive map of the state of play in Europe provides a graphical illustration of progress towards laws, targets and guidelines.

But such rules may not be having the pervasive effect necessary to advance women through the corporate structure, according to colleague Emiliya Mychasuk’s article “The quandary of quotas”.

Ana García Fau, chief executive of Yell Publicidad in Spain, tells her “real equal opportunities” are the goal, and  adds:

Quota systems are there to help reach this goal and breach the gap, as they boost women’s access to companies’ boards and, thus, their participation in decision-making.

The problem is that quotas may force the issue in the boardroom, but they aren’t necessarily bringing more women into the executive pipeline. Norway was one of the first countries to introduce quotas, forcing companies to lift the proportion of women on boards to above 40 per cent. But, according to research by Egon Zehnder International, the search firm, there has been no corresponding improvement in the number of women in leading executive positions – the best stepping stone to the role of chief executive and to the boardroom itself.

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The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen. www.ft.com/womenblog

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.