11 / Industry commentary on the proposed quotas

Insights 04

Last month marked International Women’s Day and the government again took the opportunity to discuss the imposition of quotas to increase the proportion of female directors to 30%. 

As always, there have been polarising views with many debating whether introducing quotas really is the best solution for both women and corporate governance.

We chatted to some of our contacts to hear their thoughts on this contentious issue.

We posed the following question to them:

“Are your for or against imposing a quota for female board appointments and why?”

Here is what they came back with.

“I support the idea of having as many females as we can on boards, as naturally the more diversity we have the better it is for the organisation. What I don’t agree with is imposing a quota. Organisations should have the values, policies, succession plans and selection criteria in place to enable not only females, but all people to be judged on their own merits. If a quota is enforced by the government, this may be seen to undermine the capabilities of women who have worked hard and deserve their position on their board. Forcing a certain percentage of women to join corporate boards weakens the effort made by those deservingly in board member roles and in some situations may diminish the value made by female board members. Rather than imposing a quota, the government should look at the reasons why there is currently a limited number of females on boards and offer genuine resolution to promote real career pathways for women. Further investigations into the reasons for the in-balance need to be conducted and government policy needs to be directed at removing these barriers that are a particular impediment for women.”

Jamieson McKinnon, Director Human Resources & Communications at SCA Hygiene Australasia.

“I can see both sides of the debate. In my recent research on the topic of “what women want”, 70% of women believed quotas were necessary to create change. However the concepts of tokenism, talent based appointments and mandatory quotas were also very sensitive. A token woman is worse than no women at all due to the impact they can have on people’s perceptions. It should not be about the numbers. The broader issue is the need for the supporting structures to retain women and allow them to thrive in a corporate environment. It is obvious that the stagnation towards women in senior management is not getting better and action is needed. Regulations enforced in January 2011 were a good first step in creating the momentum. Business now has the opportunity to show how serious they are about creating change. If organisations don’t rise to the occasion, then perhaps the government needs to get serious about quotas.”

Karen Barr, Executive Coach at Creative Coaching Company.

“There are two ways to look at this question – my initial response was that I am ‘against’ imposing a quota because you should always look to appoint the right person with the right skills and experience for the position and gender should not be considered. If a quota was imposed, would this mean a female (who may not have the correct skill base or experience) has to be appointed when in fact a male colleague with the required skill base would have been the correct candidate? What affect would this then have on the effectiveness of the board, the business and the position? There is also the argument that a large majority of boards are male oriented and as such they may favour continuing with a ‘male’ board rather than considering the right candidate for the role, which may be a woman. If a female member was appointed the dynamics of the board would obviously change and this could actually be advantageous in ensuring greater female representation at board level, however the female candidate would still need to meet the specific position requirements.”

Mary Kanellos, General Manager at Symex Holdings Limited

So what do we think? It is a hard question. As a consulting organisation we would definitely say that the best person should get the job, based on experience, competencies, cultural fit and motivations. However, an interesting way to look at it would be to say, “well, if women make up 53 per cent of the population and 46 per cent of the workforce, why do they only make up to 11 – 25 per cent of senior management or board appointments?”

Debate will continue but it is clear to us that this issue requires more than government imposition.

For an additional opinion piece on this issue, click here.