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Pro's and Con's of quotas

Pamela Young - Thursday, May 12, 2011
Quotas for women on Boards is being debated the world over.  Success in Norway is hard to ignore and the supporters of the "that's not meritocracy" argument are confronted daily with new press coverage on why quotas are a good thing.

Ginka Toegel, Professor at IMG in Switzerland and leader of the Strategies for Leadership program, has summarised the pro's and con's for us to consider in this article:  Boards of Directors Need Quotas for Women
Quotas or not quotas? Will it lead to over-promotion?

Some people worry that quotas would lead to women being promoted to Boards 'just because of the quota' and that for some this would be an over-promotion.  Others say, if there are 10 men on a Board, some of them must be over-promoted as that can't all be more capable than the women who applied for those jobs.   

Ginka says that because there are so few women in senior management, there are fewer women who have large company executive experience.  But there are some women in senior management...and yet too many Boards in many leading countries still have no women at all - or a token one.

Quotas or not quotas? Is that the question?

Attitudes and behaviours that shape a nation's culture also influences the roles that men and women take on in life and therefore contain secret ingredients to changing the degree to which women ascend organisations and take up Board positions.  When looking to change attitudes and behaviours that have been present for many decades, it helps to look at the assumptions and values that lie at the bottom of the culture.

Shifting the values of a culture of a nation or company requires structural and systemic changes to support the new behaviour that you seek...and it requires consistent and very visible leadership.  So the first question might be "what systemic changes would lead to greater participation of women in senior management...and on Boards?"

In answering this question, quotas may well arise as a worthy solution, but there will be others.

How can women catch up after a family break?

Modern organisations could follow the example set by the professions.  For several decades now law, accounting and engineering firms world-wide have been offering dual-track careers paths.  One path for those who have strong people management or business development skills and are more suitable to line-management...and another for the 'thought-leaders', the 'great intellectuals' and those who have 'exceptional mental agility' and who might be more suitable to technical leadership roles.  The dual-track model allows peers to ascend the career structure at the same rate but on separate pathways and with different reuqirements and performance expectations.

Women who leave a company for 5-7 years to have a child or two often feel less inclined to want to return if their former subordinates have been promoted in their absence and may now end up being their bosses.  The dual-track career path would provide an opportunity for women to return to a non-line role to work on special projects or specialist task until they get up-to-date with the changes without feeling they have slipped backwards.

Could it be time to look at more flexible organisation designs to help attract talented women back to their caeers?

Please share your thoughts below.

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