Are Family Leave Policies a Good Thing
Is it okay to “exaggerate” on a resumé or during an interview?

Are Quotas a Morally Justifiable Action?

A blog response to Should Quotas be set to Expand Board Opportunities for Women?

I have previously blogged about the difficulty women have “Breaking through the Glass Ceiling” and “Should Quotas be set to Expand Board Opportunities for Women?” I recently received a blog comment from a reader named Verity who wrote the essay below. I like to post these extensive comments especially when they are submitted as part of an academic assignment to give greater visibility to those comments and the issues they address. Before doing so I would add to my original blog and thoughts about whether quotas should be set to get more women on boards of directors the point that putting more women on the board is a smart choice from a corporate governance perspective and it best represents a variety of stakeholder interests.

Guest Blog by Verity

The title of your blog poses a compelling question which was why I chose to look at it for my assignment – should quotas be set to expand board opportunities for women.

A quota is just one of the many examples of an affirmative action policy. This type of Affirmative action policy is used in organisations as a way of regulating employees in the workplace. The original purpose for implementing an affirmative action policy was to help correct past wrongs experienced by members of minority groups. In the article, “Goals and Quotas in hiring and promotion”, Tom L. Beauchamp discusses the original meaning of an affirmative action. He wrote that the original meaning was minimalistic by definition with the main intent of a quota policy was to protect against discrimination and safeguard equal opportunities.

The author of this blog mentions that women’s progress can be impeded within an organisation and that women can experience challenges that often do not apply to men. This is considered due cause for considering an affirmative action policy as it could be said that setting a quota is a way of “leveling the playing field” for minority groups and, as in this example, for women. As the author pointed out, there has long been a thought that women are more emotional and therefore are considered weaker, which then can translate into the business arena with women often being disadvantaged when compared with a same or similar position held by a male counterpart.

I consider that setting a quota could trigger one of two potential outcomes: 1 – a positive outcome where women are regarded no differently from their male counterparts and vice versa and 2 – women are disadvantaged by unfair treatment compared to their male counterparts in a same or similar position. To answer the question of whether quotas are a morally justifiable action, I believe that the intention of the policy needs to be considered. What is the point of the quota? Beauchamp stated in his article that companies who utilise affirmative action policies can promote diversity in the workplace which creates instances of lower staff turnover. The company can attract higher quality employees and the company can also experience increased customer satisfaction.

These results would be considered ethical for many reasons such as the increased happiness experienced by stakeholders, customers and employees. It can also be said that the principle behind setting the quota had good intent which would be viewed favourably. Finally, setting a quota with the intention of creating a harmonious balance in the workplace is a display of virtuous traits (fairness and equality for people previously disadvantaged and justice for previous wrong-doings) which adds further support for a quota to be viewed as an ethical action. If these results are what the company is trying to achieve with the quota setting, then it is likely that it would be considered an ethical action to take.

The author considers the imposition of a quota to be a mistake as it is thought that it highlights the lack of fairness and it implies that women are not qualified on their own merits. By setting a quota an organisation appears to be extending liberties that are not necessarily available to all people in order to fulfill a target or goal set by the organisation. More potential negative outcomes are discussed in the article “Will Affirmative-Action Policies Eliminate Negative Stereotypes?” by Stephen Coate and Glenn C. Loury. They consider that quota policies are often put in place to help combat stereotypes around minority groups. The quota policy has the potential to either reduce or remove the negative stereotype or it has potential to worsen the stereotype. They also consider that affirmative action policies can force employers to employ to lower standards which have a flow on effect to their employee skill base and employee performance. Understandably, these types of outcomes are probably not what the organisation would have wanted as a result of setting a quota but they are potential negative issues that could arise. 

Along with the author, I personally believe that quotas can cause more harm than good. Much progress has been made in the workforce and women are regarded more highly for the unique skills and attributes they can bring to the work arena now than in the past. I believe that setting a quota could cause this progress to be stalled or reversed.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on May 27, 2013