Wednesday, 7 March 2012

EU wants quotas for women in boardrooms

The EU is planning a directive to enforce quotas of women in boardrooms.

The EU Justice Minister, Viviane Reding, says:
It’s no secret that in countries where there are legal quotas, the figures have grown substantially.

In countries without obligatory quotas, progress is slow. I think we’re slowly running out of patience everywhere in Europe. I am not a fanatic about quotas ... but I like the results quotas bring out.
Of course the number of women in boardrooms increases when you pass a law forcing companies to have minimum numbers of women on their boards - it would be illegal not to.  The question is: has it actually improved the performance of the company or is success only measured in the level of compliance with someone's ideology?

Without considering any other factors, statistically there should be more women than men in the boardroom in the UK because there are a couple of percent more women than men.  But it isn't just down to demographics, there are a whole load of other factors that affect the number of women in boardrooms or just in business as a whole.

It is only relatively recently that women have gained equal status to men before the law and that society has changed to accept women forging a career instead of staying at home.  Two centuries ago, a woman could be a man's property through slavery and men had a common law right to beat their wives for not doing as they were told.

A century ago, women were housewives and men were workers.  The war changed that and ¾ of a century ago, it was less uncommon for a woman to have a job.  The anti-establishmentarianism and liberalism of the 60s changed the world again and ½ a century ago young women largely did what they wanted on a personal level.  A ¼ of a century ago the likes of Body Shop and Ann Summers bosses, Anita Roddick and Jacqueline Gold, showed the world that women were perfectly capable of running multi-million pound global brands.

Things have come on in leaps and bounds in historical terms but it will take decades - if not centuries - before women are naturally on a level playing field.  If they ever are.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing because it's much better for this level playing field to be a natural thing rather than something created by legislation.  It's much better that people instinctively think women are equally capable and valuable because the thought doesn't occur to them that they wouldn't be, rather than trying to force them to think that way by making laws to tell them they should.

If this law is passed, every woman that's appointed to a board to fill a quota will be left wondering if she is there on merit or to make up the numbers and in a great many cases it'll be the latter.  Is that advancing the cause of equality for women?