Why Female Quotas Won’t Cut It

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France, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, and Italy have all introduced quota laws in recent years that require a certain percentage of boardroom positions to be held by women. Recently, the European Commission debated legislation that would require every country in the EU to set such quotas.

That would be a mistake, according Eva Faenger, Diversity Manager at HP Germany: “It’s true that the quota would be an important signpost for the direction we should be going in Germany. It would make sure the question stays on companies’ agendas and it would keep up the pressure for change. But it isn’t enough. Success will come from a sustained program of transformation, and a quota alone can’t achieve that.” Faenger argues for a holistic approach that in equal measure addresses the actual situation in the companies and the market, how people gain relevant experience and qualifications for jobs, how people act and think as individuals, and corporate cultures.

Nor does Microsoft support the quota. Brigitte Hirl-Höfer, HR Director with a seat on the Microsoft Germany board of management, told SAP.info: “Just to stay competitive, companies must do better in realizing the potential of women. They don’t need the law to tell them that. To boost the number of managers who are women, companies have to change their mindset. They must remove pay differentials, of course, but they must also actively develop and promote women and become more family-friendly all around.”

Consulting firm McKinsey & Company tends to a similar view. Its own Women Matter reports indicate that mixed-sex teams make better decisions. McKinsey wouldn’t express a view on the quota to SAP.info – it doesn’t make statements on political issues. But actions speak louder than words: McKinsey’s spokesperson proudly told us about the firm’s new female leadership sponsorship program for women who are currently enrolled in their third semester or later at university, and for those studying for their doctorate.

The IT industry is right up there. For example, Dell started the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) in 2010 so women in leadership and women entrepreneurs could network together. In May 2011, SAP committed to raising the share of its leadership positions held by women to 25 percent by 2017 – from a starting point of 18 percent at the beginning of 2011.