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Quotas: tokenism or necessary push to correct wrong views?

Mon 15 August 2011

, Maurice Eykman, LEAP redactie

According to a recent survey by executive recruiters Harvey Nash, 81% of women feel that bias in the appointment process has a major impact on female representation – but two-thirds (64%) do not support legal quotas. Nor did they want special treatment, or be thought of as the statistic token woman. They would rather be judged on their own merit and the skills that they would bring to the Board to add value, complementing the skills of the current board. One such area might well be non verbal / emotional intelligence (EQ) input into a business.

In a reaction for the Glass Hammer titled “Why are we still confusing quotas with tokenism?”, Melissa Anderson tries to answer the question. Anderson: “The point of a quota system isn’t to play a numbers game, promoting female faces to positions of leadership just for show. It’s to encourage a correction of long-standing and culturally entrenched beliefs around what a leader looks like – male – and to place those women at the top who do deserve to be there, but because of culturally entrenched bias, haven’t made it.”

Anderson quotes Maggie Berry, founder of Women in Technology, who shares the – wrong - view of the respondents to the Nash research: “It’s a fantastic achievement to be promoted thanks to your hard work, ability and success. But to be promoted to board level just because a certain number of female places need to be filled would make most women feel insulted, rather than elated. In short, we want to be promoted on our own merits.”

Anderson: “Berry believes that instituting a quota system would mean placing women at the top who don’t deserve to be there. This view, that a quota system is akin to tokenism, is just plain wrong. It implies that the dearth of women at the top has nothing to do with institutional, cultural bias, and that women aren’t in leadership roles in large numbers because they majority simply aren’t qualified for them. In fact, there are plenty of highly qualified women just waiting to break through to the top. The idea behind quotas is to get those women who are “simply better at their jobs” into the roles they deserve. Quotas may seem uncomfortable, but change is often uncomfortable. Businesses have had decades to correct the leadership gender imbalance, and most of them have done next to nothing. Perhaps quotas are the push we need to correct this long-standing imbalance.”

What do you think?
Is a quota system tokenism or a necessary mean to get talented women on the positions they deserve?