One Finite Planet

Solution: A quota system with equity?

First Published:

Australian Government Ministers - with gender balance
Australian Government Ministers – with gender balance

The ‘old boys network’ is real, and that is one key reason and many ethnic groups are unrepresented in positions of power and influence.

1: But why is this so? And 2: how do we change things?

1. Why is it so? Why does the same mix of people to be appointed?

There are many historic reasons why at one time leaders of industry and government of countries tended to be white males.  But what stops change now those historic reasons are relegated to history? The historic ethnic mix of the population was almost entirely white, and wrongly or rightly, the social structure including the size of families prevented most women from most roles.  That produced the original stereotype, but what propagates the stereotype?

Simply put: whoever is in power now, decides who is in power next.  All evidence is that when making selections, people select others in their image. 

This means that a selection panel of white males, will be predisposed to select white males.

2: How do we change things?

Option 1: Quotas.

One suggestion is to force selection panels to change who they select through quota systems. Quotas force a required  mix of people (say, at least 40% women?) are selected for a certain type of role.  The negative of quota systems is that the outcome is forced, rather than on merit, which can lead suggestions of ‘token’ appointments undermining the very people the system seeks to benefit.

Option 2: Use quotas on the mix of the selection committees themselves.

What if, instead of mandating who the selection committees choose, the mandate is to insist on the mix in the committee itself.  To ensure the selection committee has, to match the above example with quotas, at least 40% women on the selection panel.  This should ensure that same predisposition to select in the same mix as those selecting, is now working towards solving the problem instead of against.

Enforcing rules for make-up of selection committees is far less imposing that  enforcing outcomes of selection.  Perhaps this measure still will not be sufficient in may cases, and where quotas are already in consideration for actual outcomes this could be a backward step.  But for the many situations where quotas on outcomes are seen as a step too far,  quotas for selection committees could be that all important initial correction.

In Practice.

In practice the same ‘token’ claims can dilute the influence of those on a selection panel.  A male head of government, say Tony Abbott ex-prime minister of Australia, arguably gender balanced as a selection committee working by his chief of staff, who was a woman. One man one woman.  But from the picture at the top of this post you can see the result was hardly gender balanced.  The reality is that others had a say in the outcome, but even if one man one woman, if not of equal seniority little may be achieved.  The real point is that all on a selection committee need not have equal voice so just numbers alone is insufficient.

Conclusion.

A quota system for selection panels could see boards and leadership posts better distributed and is a very potent concept if truly embraced.  Of course little improvement will result where such a concept is reluctantly embraced.

Comment?

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