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.

RSS News