To QUOTA or NOT to QUOTA?
« Bruno Le Maire favorable to quotas to promote gender equality »
Such a title was needed to get me to write again after a such a long silence.
The word « quota » was used.
Year after year, this word never ceases to create heated debates. While some see quotas as THE solution to solve gender inequality within companies, other see it as unfair favouritism, resulting in a promotion linked to gender instead of competencies. We would thus have women recruited because they are women and not because they are qualified for the role, at the expense of men that are sometimes more deserving. So what is it really? Are there any conclusions to be drawn from our few years of experience on this subject? And, what are the arguments of those vehemently opposed to quotas?
The timing is good. We are celebrating the 10 years of the Copé-Zimmermann law. It was voted on January 27, 2011. As a reminder, this law depicts that the percentage of directors of each sex appointed to the the board of directors of medium or large companies may not be less than 40%.
The result, after 10 years? The 160 largest French companies have 46% of women appointed to the board, double the average for OECD countries. But the main effect of this law can’t be boiled down to a number, it lies in the evolution of boards of directors. Greater diversity has made it possible to hire people with different skills and to improve corporate governance. Diversity has allowed for the implementation of a new perspective amongst boards of directors and for a greater questioning of a company’s established order, on which traditional leadership is based. In a world where innovation is accelerating exponentially, these changes are becoming real competitive advantages.
However, when Bruno Le Maire’s announcement came out, the same 10-year-old arguments came back. It would be fair to assume that the results would speak for themselves and that we would avoid having the same debates, the same questions and the same answers … But no, that would be too simple and we would miss out on the joy of French debates.
So, let’s deconstruct the arguments against quotas together – or at least the ones that come up the most
Argument 1: “Quotas are not enough to change all mindsets & behaviors.“
In other words, they lead to small changes, not a complete transformation of the company (or even society). And it is true, for example, that there are still too few women at the executive level and in executive committees, despite the increased percentage of women on boards of directors. We can’t argue this fact: quotas have a limited impact. However, this type of thinking encourages idleness, certainly doesn’t promote the cause, and is, in my view, outdated. Let’s accept that, whatever we do, it will never be enough, it will never immediately solve the whole problem, but that it doesn’t prevent us from implementing initiatives that are headed in the right direction. Let’s analyze the positive impact each proposal could have, rather than immediately highlighting its limits.
Argument 2: “I would recruit a lot of women, but I can’t find any. “
Indeed, using the typical channels makes it possible to recruit the typical profiles, coming from the same schools, from the same social background, and with the same vision of the world and of the company. It is necessary to have a real approach to diversity, to search for candidates in the “cross-networks” and above all, to accept and promote different profiles.
Argument 3: “Women are chosen for the quota, but not for their competencies. “
Women are often the first to put this argument forward against quotas. They are understandably afraid of not being recruited for their qualifications, but because of their gender. But experience shows that this idea does not reflect reality at all. No company would take the risk of appointing an incompetent person to a critical position, even to meet a legal obligation. No recruiter would take the risk of presenting unqualified candidates to fulfil objectives. This attitude would quickly have very negative consequences on the person’s own job, and on a larger scale, on the company.
When Schlumberger, an oil services company, introduced a quota in the 1990s to hire women engineers to work drilling platforms, the main impact it had was that it questioned hiring methods, both in terms of the recruitment ads posted and the format of the interviews. The first action put in place was to find a way to draw women to these low-feminized jobs. Then, there was integration work done to support these pioneers. The direct consequence of quantified objectives is that it questions the attractiveness of companies. This will lead them to be more creative so as not to produce a single recruitment scheme (and therefore naturally a single profile in the company), but on the contrary, to offer a different approach to attract different people! After a few years, the objective of 35% was reached, 35% of women whose skills were no longer questioned because they started being recognized over time.
Quotas remain the most effective way to accelerate the increase in the number of women that occupy positions traditionally held by men. 10 years after the Copé-Zimmermann law, the value added of parity has been proven, and women are clearly no longer recruited into boards of directors because of quotas, but for their beneficial contributions.
And that’s the goal. To have a number of women large enough for their presence to become natural and for mindsets to change … in order to one day remove quotas!
Chief Sustainability Officer at LafargeHolcim