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Quotas - Who's Counting Anyway?

 April 30, 2013

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The age-old debate about setting employment quotas for women at executive level has reared its head again. It seems this discussion is here to stay, with both opponents and supporters passionate about the merits of this strategy.

The European Union (EU) questioned the legality of introducing quotas. Their own example is not a positive one as over 85 percent of executive posts in the EU are held by men.

Can setting quotas be effective? A seemingly successful example of this is Norway, which reached its goal of women occupying at least 40 percent of board room positions. Years later and all the original commotion surrounding this appears to have decreased. Most Norwegians now accept this as the status quo.

On closer inspection, Norway may not be a beacon for women making a noticeable contribution as only 15 percent on company boards are senior executive managers, while 35 percent are non-executive board members. The latter do not have much of an impact on the company's day-to-day life. It has been noted that most Norwegian women appear to prefer non-executive roles.

Equally, a survey found that only four percent of 547 women interviewed had aspirations to be executive board members. Maintaining a work-life balance was one of the many reasons provided.

Lord Davies of Abersoch has recommended FTSE 100 companies should aim for their boards to be 25 percent female by 2015. If this figure refers only to executive positions, there is a long way to go, considering that there are only two female CEOs remaining in the FTSE 100.

There is no doubt that there needs to be more women at executive level; male CEOs have commented that the quality of discussions increase when this is the case. However, it appears that most women are not counting quotas because they do not want to make up the number of executive board members.

Perhaps the EU should channel its energy into addressing the barriers to success for women who do want to make a meaningful impact on companies at executive level. Flexible working and non-punitive measures during child rearing years would be a start. This must surely be preferable to having token female posteriors on seats, who make little impact on the daily business and other females aspiring to become executives. 

The author of this blog is Karan Y. Johnson from www.writeandgood.com

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