Those of us that have been focused on the Gender Agenda for some time are well versed on the topic of quotas. Given that this is an area of ramped up focus currently in Europe I thought it would be interesting to ask Aoife to give some thought to the topic of quotas for two reasons. Firstly, as a newcomer to the area of gender diversity I was interested in hearing her view, and secondly, as the European based member of our global team I was also interested in hearing her view, and her view she shares…..
The discussion and debate on quota’s continues and has received some recent stimulation as result of Viviane Reding’s recent proposal for EU legislation requiring 40% of non executive board seats to be appointed to the ‘under-represented gender’, of course we all know that in most cases this means women. Reding is vocal in her view that self-regulation has failed, the result... legislation is the only option to accelerate gender equality in many of the most senior areas of business life.
If approved Reding’s proposal would require state-owned companies to name women to 40 percent of the seats on supervisory boards by 2018, and by 2020 for publicly listed companies, along with various levels of sanctions for those that do not meet them. Reding is expected to make the final proposal public by mid-October. The legislation itself requires approval from the Union’s 27 governments and the European Parliament; some of which have already adopted quotas while others have publicly opposed such a system. With all this in mind I have no doubt we will all be watching this space….!
In fact, a panel session entitled ‘Strategic Shifts: The future of human capital’ at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting of the new champions (also known as the ‘summer-Davos’) in China last month got to discussing the very topic, as result of a question posed from the audience, who was a member of the European Parliament (watch the panel discussion by clicking here).
Considering all of the above and my relative ‘newness’ to the area of gender diversity, I gave myself a moment to pause and reflect on something that I had never really thought about before. As a relatively young women in business, how do I feel about quotas? And, do I think they are the answer?
I look at my career and I think back to starting off and just how challenging it was to find a strong female role model I aspired to emulate. Would my career path of been clearer, easier if this was not the case? And what if in line with quota requirements, 40% of the leadership landscape I was exposed to was female. Would I wonder if that 40% got there on their own merit or were in token roles to fill such quota requirements? These are questions I can only ponder, not answer.
Naturally, I begin to think about the last few months of my career, another beginning, the beginning of my most recent role. Given its focus is one of diversity and inclusion I think about all of the unnerving gender diversity metrics I am learning about throughout the world of business. In this regard, I echo Dennis Nally’s (PwC’s global chairman, speaking at the aforementioned WEF session) frustrated view, that given the female rates of participation in education and the workplace, the rate of change and involvement at the ‘top’ is just too slow.
But does this mean I’m a supporter of quotas, well I’m not so sure.
I would like today’s talent and tomorrow’s talent to have female role models to aspire to, yes. But I also want the focus to shine beyond the topic of women at the top. Instead, for it to shine on women at every stage of their career ladder, so that perhaps they begin to naturally flow rather than fight their way to the top. While progress is slow, I do believe that progress in this area is beginning to take form. That succession pipelines that include qualified female talent for mission critical roles are beginning to take shape. A sentiment widely expressed by the panel of the referenced WEF session as they clearly articulate that the bench strength of female talent for such positions undoubtedly exists.
The question that really concerns me with regard the European proposal for quota’s is not will it drive change, or will it impede it. But what impact will it have on all the hard work that has gone before with regards driving more parity in these pipelines. My concern is that such quotas might eat up this pipeline and we begin to see a trend of increasing non-executive female board members and decreasing female board members. Personally, I would prefer to see this pipeline channelled towards C-suite roles rather than quota driven non-executive board roles, with today and tomorrow’s talent having female role models by way of CEO’s, COO’s, CIO’s and CFO’s to aspire to.
For the first time ever in PwC’s 15th annual global CEO survey the issue of talent has been catapulted into the top three strategic challenges CEO’s say they are facing. The issue of closing corporate leadership gender gaps is part of this challenge.
For me, having a leader who believes in the case for change, is frustrated with the rate of change, and willing to drive change, the right kind of change, seems much more important and impactful than legislating quotas. At PwC, with Dennis Nally, we are lucky to have that kind of leader, but of course I appreciate this will not be the case for all organisations.
So I’ve reflected and thought about it, and I am not convinced that quotas are the answer. But I am just one voice in an endemic debate. What’s your view? And if like me, you would like to understand Viviane Reding’s perspective better then tune into womens-forum.tv (at 10.30 GMT) this Thursday to hear Reding speak about the very same at the 2012 Women’s Forum For The Economy and Society Global Meeting, taking place in Deauville, France. I have just arrived in Deauville and I am very much looking forward to being part of the discussion.