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Quotas are back in the news – with some for them, and some against… so what’s your take?

Over the years, opinion on gender quotas for boards and senior leadership positions has been like a pendulum swinging from one side to the other.  Until relatively recently, many senior women in business were on the record saying an emphatic “no” to quotas.  The view by many educated, experienced and talented women had been that they want to make it to the top under their own steam.  But that seems to be shifting and it seems more and more now support the position of enforced targets and mandated quotas to address the massive gender imbalance.  Though it must be said, not everyone agrees.

This is a topic I’ve been tracking for a few years now and of course it has taken on a new light since Norway introduced their quota system for the boardroom.  When I last surveyed my readership, 73% supported quotas or targets or both.  Yesterday Women On Boards released their latest survey with 50% of respondents supporting legislated gender quotas for ASX companies.  Over the past year many of our high profile women leaders like Carol Schwartz AM, Margaret Jackson AC and Her Excellency The Governor General Quentin Bryce have all gone on the record to voice their support for quotas. 

So it was interesting to see Westpac CEO Gail Kelly speaking out this week against mandating minimum numbers of women for company boards.  Kelly’s view is that diversity and gender equality should be “a specific and targeted area of focus” for organisations and that “a conscious focus, name and shame approach where boards are held to account to have to explain their performance and their track record not only at board level, but actually at senior levels is the right way to go.”  

So what’s her own track record like on this?  Yes there are women on the Board at Westpac, largely due to efforts of Kelly’s predecessors Morgan and Joss and Chairman Ted Evans. But the naming and shaming may need to start with Kelly, given has no women on her executive team, and also had none on her exec team at St George when she left.

But Kelly’s not the only one against quotas.  When Caroline Hewson AO spoke out at a Sydney forum last week about other options for promoting women into the boardoom – like adopting more of a “nanny culture” in Australia – the onslaught of inane comments was telling of the divide on the role of women in business in the first place, and the enduring opinion by many that quotas and merit are mutually exclusive.  Comments like this one by Jack that “Women are the only ones who can have children. Get over it. Accept it. Move on. Either have them, or be a corporate kick butt.”  Really Jack?  

And this one by “Steveo” that “Forcing women to become “role models” can have bad implications further down the track if they’re unable to fulfill the role. The only modelling you get as a woman is “I can be whatever I want – because I’m a woman!”. It no longer encourages women to be at the top of their game because “Society owes it to women to be on boards”

And the piece de resistance from MyOpinionOnly who suggests “Why bother having children at all if you are going to outsource your responsibility as a parent?” shows we still have a long way to go…

Though it seems like we’ve been talking about gender balance and the benefits women bring to business forever already, these attitudes leave me thinking we still have so far to go…

So what’s your take?  What would help in educating the general public and the business community on the benefits for all in achieving gender balance?  Is it achievable without quotas, or is that the only way forward?

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