5 reasons it’s time for all-women quotas

Under-representation is a vicious circle


Quotas are about helping the right people in, not the wrong people.

Opponents of quotas often envision legislation that forces employers to choose average women over great men. Of course this isn’t what anybody thinks is right, and it’s not the point of quotas.

At the Fawcett Society’s #womenatthetop debate last night, Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the treasury Seema Malhotra spoke about the All Women Shortlists (AWSs) that the Labour Party uses in its quest for equal representation. ‘You wouldn’t be able to tell’, she said emphatically, who has been brought in through quotas.

And remember that, currently, the low proportion of women in top jobs shows us that great women are regularly and systematically being passed over for average men. The culture needs to change.

Other methods aren’t working

The 2014 Davies Review states proudly that ‘women’s representation on FTSE 100 boards now stands at 20.7 per cent, up from 12.5 per cent in 2011, with only two all male boards remaining. The FTSE 250 have achieved 15.6 per cent, up from 7.8 per cent in 2011 – with 83 of the FTSE 250 all male boards in 2011 now having recruited one or more women onto their boards.’

Great – but we have to remember we’re not being given a present. It’s absurd that all-male boards exist at all. This is about basic equality, which women shouldn’t still be begging for.

Recent polling by Survation on attitudes to gender found that of people who make decisions about recruitment and interviewing – ie. middle managers who ‘hold the keys to career progression’ – 15 per cent say they do not want equality of opportunity. This is double the national average. Similarly, of this group only half think more needs to be done for men and women to be equal, compared to the UK average of 62 per cent.

These are the people who have the power to change things, and they’re not changing them fast enough. This is why it’s time for legislative measures.

The results of quotas will make the business case for equality

Ann Francke, the CEO of the Chartered Management Institute, argues that in a way, quotas would let businesses of the hook. They would allow them to skip the step of fully analysing, fully understanding, why equality makes business sense. To truly change the culture, she says, people need to figure this out for themselves. This is a good point, but ultimately the benefits of having more women at the top will speak for themselves.

As Lucy Shaddock of the Equality Trust has explained,  the World Economic Forum has identified the UK’s gender pay gap and relatively poor rates of female participation in the labour market as major barriers to inclusive growth. The IMF has also produced evidence that gender inequality and income inequality are strongly interlinked.

“Greater inequality between men and women is strongly associated with higher income shares going to the already-rich top 10 per cent, and it also goes hand in hand with lower income shares going to the poorest 20 per cent.”

As for business: in 2004 the US-based non-profit research organisation Catalyst found higher financial performance for companies with higher representation of women board directors. For example, average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 53 percent on equity return.

Yes, it might take time for these results to be felt – but surely it will take less time than waiting for employers to understand the business and economic case for more women when it exists only as an abstract concept? We may as well get the ball rolling.

Quotas will start the conversation

It’s true that quotas won’t work on their own. They cannot function as a sticking plaster, and must be accompanied by culture change in which all of society has a role to play, including the media and the education system.

But their introduction would be controversial and would ignite the explosive conversation we so desperately need to have, about why exactly women aren’t getting top jobs, why women are locked out of certain sectors, why there is a pay gap… the list goes on.

We need role models

Under-representation is a vicious circle (this is of course true of racial discrimination too.) The less visible women there are in traditionally male sectors, the less young women will aspire to be in those sectors. Even if women do manage to break into these tight male worlds, the stress of being the only female there can push them back out again.

Women leave the judiciary, for example, at what barrister Charlotte Proudman calls a ‘staggeringly high rate’ – while 50 per cent of people called to the bar are women, only 12 per cent are QCs and 24 per cent judges.

The testosterone-driven culture of sectors like finance and STEM can make careers in them unappealing to even the most talented and determined of women. Quotas represent a way of breaking this cycle, and are a positive way of showing that you do not need to ‘act like a man’ to get into these fields.

They will also dismantle, through forcing men to experience what women are actually like at work, all those harmful stereotypes about powerful women (type ‘woman boardroom’ into Google Images and it’s hard to find a woman who is not either squaring up for a fight or literally bending over).

It’s almost tempting to say that it doesn’t even matter if that first woman isn’t the best person for the job, because of the positive effect her visibility alone will have on future generations, although this is highly unlikely to be an issue – given that half the people are women statistically there’s no more chance of the wrong woman being employed than the wrong man.

The numbers speak for themselves – the UK has been operating an unofficial pro-male quota system forever. This isn’t about revenge, but about levelling the playing field once and for all. It’s about equality, pure and simple.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward

28 Responses to “5 reasons it’s time for all-women quotas”

  1. Terry Paul Pearce

    No no no. Wrong move. Emphatically. I’m a HR professional who is rabidly pro equality and a feminist. If you introduce quotas, you are handing menists and pro-patriarchy lobbies a loaded gun of an argument. The argument is that women are as good as men and should therefore be hired on their merits. If this isn’t working we need to address the points of failure, not give up on it. As soon as you deprioritise merit as a criteria, you may s will give in. I sympathise with your motives, but I believe this means of achieving the ends we want is profoundly misguided.

  2. Bradley B.

    Monsanto won an award in 2013 for its large number of women executives. Three cheers for Monsanto! We need more corporations like Monsanto!

  3. Mike Killingworth

    Absolutely, TPP. What “points of failure” do you have in mind?

  4. Asteri

    What exactly is the ‘pro-patriarchy’ lobby? do tell. The omnipotent misogynists are still at it I assume.

  5. Whothehell Cares

    Quotas for male teachers, female road workers and female sewage workers. Lets break through the concrete basement so we can all see the glass ceiling more clearly.

  6. Bob

    I don’t know whether to upvote or downvote you. Congrats on the merit stuff, get a grip with the pro-patriarchy hysterics.

    “I’m… rabidly pro equality and a feminist” DOES NOT COMPUTE, DOES NOT COMPUTE

  7. Bob

    The ‘Pro-Patriarchy Lobbies’ are the large, sub-terranean operations HQs in every country on earth, from which all men meet on a regular basis to decide how they’re going to better oppress women tomorrow, such as sharing tips on improving rape culture, how to beat their spouses without leaving marks, how to better market degrees to girls so that they’re tricked into taking Gender Studies instead of engineering, and of course setting the price of pink razors. Just remember to pick up your free champagne, lion-fur robes and monocle at the door.

  8. rtdave


  9. Bob

    “the low proportion of women in top jobs shows us that great women are
    regularly and systematically being passed over for average men.”

    It does? They are? Do have have any proof of this assertion?

    Are there any other possible reasons you can think of as to why there are more men in these ‘top jobs’? Give it a go…

  10. Terry Paul Pearce

    Employers not always promoting diversity and equality training, lack of effective oversight of recruitment processes (both internally within organisations and in terms ofexternal review), a system where most employers feel they won’t be caught/censured if they do discriminate…

    The Equality Act 2010 is good legislation in my opinion, it just needs to be given strong support to work. The government should be sending out strong messages, both positive (a diverse workforce is an effective one) and negative (if you don’t comply, you will suffer the consequences). Waiting for someone to be discriminated against and be strong enough/care enough/be in a position to challenge the discrimination isn’t working as quickly as we might like. Proactive positive action to find and address more instances of discrimination would be a great step.

  11. Terry Paul Pearce

    Also stronger education is needed to make people realise that they can discriminate themselves, personally, without meaning to, just by not following a stringent criteria-led process.

  12. Asteri

    Patriarchy is something that is obviously omnipotent and everywhere all the time whilst being so weak it has to resort to lobbying to make itself relevant.

  13. Robert Jones

    I’m afraid you WOULD be able to tell. A look at those Labour MPs selected as a result of all-women shortlists is enough. True, the men aren’t much better.

    This so often appears to be special pleading on behalf of those wealthy middle-class women who feel they have a right to sit on boards of major companies, and are impatient with the old club bores who stand in their way: however, they’re also standing in the way of younger and potentially more effective men. And both stand in the way of anyone without the right school and university background.

    New Labour feminism has sought to abolish class division and replace it with the gender divide, failing entirely to understand that the latter is a direct result of the former. You can pretend the class war doesn’t exist any more if you want to, but the fact that your principal interest lies in capturing well-heeled positions of power in business and law gives the lie to your talk of equality.

  14. Bradley B.

    Sure enough. But also true:

    Monsanto named one of the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE) Top 50 Companies for Executive Women for 2013.
    Monsanto was recognized for the company’s commitment to providing development opportunities for female employees in the form of leadership training programs, mentoring opportunities, a women’s resource group and educational support. In addition, 30 percent of Monsanto’s senior management roles are held by women. This is Monsanto’s first appearance on the NAFE list.

    The 2013 NAFE Top 50 Companies application includes more than 200 questions on female representation at all levels, but especially the corporate officer and leadership ranks. The application also tracks access and usage of programs and policies that promote the advancement of women, as well as the training and accountability of managers in relation to the number of women who advance. To be considered, companies must have a minimum of two women on their boards of directors as well as at least 1000 employees in the U.S. (Feb. 2013)


  15. jj

    Maybe its the sheer fact women often become mothers… duh! Possibly not as many women even apply to these top jobs. Ruby is making a very simplistic analysis, its pretty embarrassing.

  16. damon

    We need quotas to make ”white van woman” equal in numbers to ”white van man”.
    It’s a disgrace that there are so few in comparrison.
    And half of them are florists (which hardly counts).

  17. Ravey Davey Gravey

    Nursing is overwhelming composed of women. Time for all-men quotas for nursing appointments.

  18. Nick W

    Hey lets move forward by splitting the party into a vast movement of differing pressure groups all of whom fight their own agenda rather than the tories ! yep brilliant idea, although by the time we have all women quotes do you need to include a transgender person or a bi-lesbian woman or a woman from ever possible
    ethnic group in the uk, or is the intention to replace mainly white middle class university educated men, with clone like white middle class university educated women ?? ( liz Kendall springs to mind) You need the very best candidates , agents, members local party members irrespective of who they are or their background,
    there are really just people at the end of the day, I have worked for a number of bosses they were good or bad based purely on their ability to man manage and surprise surprise it didn’t make a difference what gender they were.

  19. NHLfarmteams

    Excellent idea and while we’re at it there are a few other areas of glaring inequality that you can address. Men are 90% of workplace deaths, 75% of the homeless and 80% of suicides. We need a task force to enforce quotas to reach equality for women right?

  20. Chasityrupchurch2

    Quoas for male teachers, fmale road worers and femae seage workers. Lets break

  21. Chasityrupchurch2

    Quoas for male teachers, fmale road worers and femae skers. Lets break

  22. Chasityrupchurch2

    Quoas for male teachers, fmale road worers and feeage workers. Lets break

  23. Chasityrupchurch2

    Quoas for male teachers, fmale road worers ae seage workers. Lets break

  24. Chasityrupchurch2

    Quoas for male teachers, fmale road worers and femae seaorkers. Lets break

  25. Chasityrupchurch2

    Quoas for male teachers, fmale road worers and fe seage workers. Lets break

  26. Chasityrupchurch2

    Quoas for male teachers, fmale road worers and femae seageorkers. Lets break

  27. Chasityrupchurch2

    Quoas for male teachers, fmale road worers and femae age workers. Lets break

  28. Chasityrupchurch2

    Quoas for male teachers, fmale road worers and feae seage workers. Lets break

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