Do we need quotas for women in organizations?

Do we need quotas for women in organizations? Ask a successful woman in any organization and the response will be an emphatic “No”! Ask a man and he will not know what the politically right answer is. If he says ‘No’, he will be perceived as not supporting the gender diversity efforts. He cannot say ‘Yes’ as that could mean he may be valuing gender over merit. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place!

Over the past three months, I have been doing some research on this topic. Just type in ‘gender diversity’ in any search engine and you will find so many articles, white papers, presentations. There is no shortage of research on the topic; there are innumerable articles that share best practices, there are industry forums that recognize organizations with diversity awards and some countries ensure gender diversity as a matter of compliance. Over the past 20 years or so, there have been conversations on the topic with a high degree of visibility in the past 3-4 years. So what is all the fuss about?

The fact is, we still do not have enough women in the workforce.
The bigger issue is the leaky pipeline!

Women form 48.5% of the population in India, about 33% pass out as graduates, approximately 23% enter the workforce and only 8-9% get to senior management positions. This, for the uninitiated is the “leaky pipeline”. So what happened to all those women that did enter the workforce? There are societal pressures, life changes, and personal traits that pose problems and hamper women from progressing in the corporate world. These seemingly unsurmountable issues are stacked up against women, preventing them from continuing their careers. Do organizations have a responsibility towards changing this situation? Can they do more than pay lip service to improving the gender ratios?

YES! Organizations can & they should. We need to move forward & put more skin in the game. Let’s share openly where we are and what are we aiming for. We need to move beyond simplistic policies and having women’s networks.

The question is, how do we get more women into organizations

And how do we get them to stay.

Quotas – a boon or a bane?

Positive discrimination is a way to fight inequalities in a society and has been worldwide used as a policy tool. For several years in India, reservations have been a way that the government has tried to address the issues related to minorities. There are quotas in education, for employment in the public sector and reserved seats in political elections. Recently, the Delhi police announced a 33% reservation of the positions for women. However, the positive impact intended due to reservations are often not felt by the community to which it was intended. There is also a sense of stigma felt by the community for which the reservations are not meant to benefit.

So, can this be applied to the issue of increasing diversity in the workplace? While not many organizations have gone down this path, this may be one of the ways to make a dent in the numbers. We all know that organizations are governed by the principle of “what gets measured gets done”. Hence, we may find that attaching a number (i.e. quotas) to the target helps track progress towards the goal. Publishing the target within and outside the organization shows bold intent.

However, there are very few organizations that are comfortable to make this statement. Therefore, it is important to understand what organizations can do.

Progressing towards diversity

Improving diversity metrics is a long haul journey that requires patience and persistence. The progress will be gradual and need measures that are focused on all the different elements that are current roadblocks.

Organizations can leverage the model below to move their agendas on gender diversity forward.

Level Focus Area Potential Activities
Beginner Leadership Commitment Leaders need to understand, commit, internalize and evangelize gender diversity in their organization through very visible means
Programs/Policies Organizations can put in policies that enable flexibility like part time or work from home, improved post maternity benefit, paternity etc.
Women resource groups Mentoring groups to create a community of support, networking opportunities etc.
Intermediate Create organizational visibility diversity trainings, open discussions around unconscious bias etc. that enable better understanding of the differences between men and women and its impact on working together
Corporate disclosure Publish Gender ratios like hiring mix by gender, promotion percentages, compensation etc.
Leadership development for women Identify, coach and grow women leaders through focused programs
Seasoned Focus on Board and top management diversity Consciously add more women board members and focus on growing women into top management positions
Diversity targets Publish diversity targets for managers and report on CEO performance on diversity
Focus on supplier and vendor diversity Enable suppliers and vendors to improve diversity in their organizations
3 levels of progression for organizations on the diversity journey

In conclusion, let’s have some metrics to measure how we are doing. Let leaders talk the talk & walk the talk. Let’s not be shy about reversing the flow and fixing the leak. Do we need quotas for women? Maybe not, but there is a lot that organizations can do!

(About the author: This article has been contributed by Kameshwari Rao, Director, People Strategy, SapientNitro India.)