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Quotas, Women, and Breaking through the Glass Ceiling

Guest Blog on Women, and the Glass Ceiling

From time to time I receive a comprehensive response to a blog I have written as part of an ethics assignment. The posting below by Jen is in response to one such blog on “Breaking through the Glass Ceiling.”

In your previous blog entitled “Breaking through the Glass Ceiling”, you describe the difficulty women have in progressing and breaking through to management and the boardroom. You mention how ‘women are often left feeling negative, worn down and disillusioned that they are not being used to their full potential’. This I believe stems from women historically being known to be the ‘homemaker’ and being stigmatised to have little or no place in the workforce let alone the boardroom. This has changed with modern society and the economic challenges we are now faced with, where it is now normal for women and men of the same household to be part of the workforce. Sadly though, women have struggled and found it very difficult to progress further in their careers and secure positions in the boardroom. 

If we take a look at the organisational structure of some businesses, we often see a line of vertical segregation. Vertical segregation exists where men and women hold disproportionate positions in the same field. Higher ranking positions have often been filled by men instead of women; this has been primarily due to men being regarded as having better authoritative traits and capabilities for such positions (Charles & Grusky, 2004). Is it not fair then, that something should be done about this? Women who possess the same skill and strengths as their male colleagues should be given equal opportunity to hold these higher positions. Affirmative action policies, of which the quota system is a part of, refers to positive steps taken to hire people that were previously and are presently discriminated against and gives equal opportunities for all.

Quotas are target employment percentages and aim to provide a percentage goal that corporations should aim towards that will make opportunities equal and fair for all regardless of gender or race. They are included as an affirmative action to right what is wrong. Voluntary quota is not always effective, as with the EU’s Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, stating that at the current rate it would take over 40 years for women to hold 40 percent of board positions in Europe’s publicly traded companies, (Mintz, Steven) - hardly a desirable result! There is however, compelling evidence and studies to support the success of mandatory quota. Take for example, Norway, which found that they are far ahead of other European nations in recruiting women to board and have found that this is primarily due to legislation and the imposition of a quota system on all corporate boards (Reeves, 2010).  This was imposed after an unsuccessful voluntary compliance.

In your argument, in that imposing quotas is a mistake, you mention that using quotas will undermine the merits and qualification of women in their own rights and that they need assistance to break through this segregation (glass ceiling). The aim of quotas is not to undermine or cause any further discrimination but to align and combat discrimination amongst minority groups so that everyone has equal opportunities. Your comments on the results by the Center for Work-Life Policy and that male manager’s simply don’t see the lack of women around them is consistent with the thoughts of (Beauchamp, 2004) in that it is often difficult for someone who discriminates to notice discrimination in action. (Beauchamp, 2004), believes that goals and quotas are an indispensable government and management tool and may be the only way to break down patterns of discrimination and bring meaningful diversity to the workplace. Even though women may have the merits and qualifications required,  discrimination is not often noticed and it is necessary that an intervention such as a quota system be implemented to assist in putting an end to discrimination. Your comment on the lack of equality and fairness and the failure of male-driven boards and top managers to respect women for what they can bring to the table reinforces the need for some intervention, like quotas, which would address this and bring fairness and equality to the boardroom by giving equal opportunities.

From a business perspective, it is in a businesses’ best interest to incorporate aggressive plans for goals and quotas for three main reasons - it results in an improved work force, it maintains a bias-free corporate environment and it results in agreeableness to managerial planning (Beauchamp, 2004). The number of women who represent on a board is also critical - a relevant number of women are required on a board in order to be effective in a push for woman issues and also to prevent being isolated or disregarded (Reeves, 2010). The quota system will allow for the required or desirable target employment percentages of women to represent on the board and be meaningful in management and progression for the organisation.

I believe that more people would benefit from the quota system, businesses and women in particular. If society is presently unfair to women then it would be fair that it should be changed as it would be unfair if nothing was done and discrimination is allowed to continue. When things are fairer to women then society as a whole will benefit as women’s skills will no longer be wasted (Richards, 1993). The aim of the quota system is not to further discriminate but to rather protect against discrimination and safeguard equal opportunities (Beauchamp, 2004). Men should not feel threatened by the implementation of a quota system but should be educated in its benefits and desired results that the implementation aims to achieve. For the quota system to be fair, women should possess the equivalent merits as their male counterparts to be considered for the same position. The overall benefits, as mentioned, far outweigh any of the negative and would maximise happiness for most whilst minimising any harm to others. 

Re-posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on February 12, 2014