Women, quotas and positive discrimination

A former bank chief, charged with the task of increasing the number of women on company boards has said he is unlikely to recommend the use of quotas.

Lord Davies of Abersoch, who was employed by the Government to conduct a report into the subject said he was “not  convinced” that quotas represented the best way forward.

Writing in the Guardian’s Comment section he said:

“Quotas have proved successful in some countries but many of the women I have spoken with are against these. I have not ruled them out as a recommendation but at the moment I am not convinced that they are the right method to encourage progress.”

The main problem with quotas is that those appointed under them are often regarded as less capable than those who aren’t, regardless of how good they really are.

But expecting things to change by themselves is perhaps naive.  Women have been a significant part of the workforce since the first world war, and yet most high level jobs are still male dominated.

Currently, just 12.5% of directors in FTSE 100 companies are women, but this surely does not represent the ability or talent of today’s business women.

Lord Davies added:

“Female executives need to be recognised for the talent and skills that they possess. I know there is a multitude of women ready for board appointments, but from the conversations I have had it seems the root of the problem may be accessing this pool of talent.”

A key problem facing women is the selection process itself.

Historically is has been the case that employers tend to reproduce the status quo.  When application processes are informal and opaque, these tendencies are enhanced.

This makes it very worrying indeed that the Higgs report of 2003 found that just 4% of non-executive directors had had formal interviews.

Making the application and selection process open and accountable is surely the first step to increasing gender diversity at the top levels.

But there is a very real possibility that it will not be enough.

If this is the case, quotas may be the only remaining option.


About Rachel Conner

Rachel Conner is currently a postgraduate newspaper journalism student at Cardiff University. She graduated in 2010 from the University of Durham with an LLB. View all posts by Rachel Conner

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