Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Are quotas really so bad?


Stats from earlier this year show that Germany is doing really badly at getting women into senior management – not to mention paying women significantly less than their male counterparts. Angela Merkel has mooted quotas, a concept I support whole-heartedly. What surprises me, however, is how little support for quotas I am seeing in the workplace.

People say things like, “I would never want to be promoted just because I am a woman. I want to be promoted on merit.” or “Quotas are insulting. We don’t need them.”

I notice that the women who dismiss quotas are usually in some kind of a management position already or who have strong technical qualifications and experience – people who have already fought a hard journey to secure their positions. They have made sacrifices to get there: had no children or only one, paid a premium for childcare, worked long hours, perhaps worked harder than anyone else, sacrificed their personal lives. It is these people who, understandably, aren’t happy to see others swing in on the liana branch of quotas and grab jobs similar to those they have nearly killed themselves for.

For those who have taken on the patriarchy at great personal cost, and won, it doesn’t seem fair to then hand out jobs like so many bananas to others. I get that.

I have two counter-arguments:

1. Men have had a quota system in place for 2,000 years. They have been handed bananas, many have been promoted above their skill sets – because there was no-one else there. The other half of the potential work population was elsewhere, fulfilling their “biological destiny”. There was no competition.

It’s time for some reciprocity.

2. The only way to fight the patriarchy is to break it. The system will never change unless there is radical action and the only radical action I can see that will enforce and inscribe change is the introduction of quotas.

I am South African, and for the last 18 years, South Africa has had a radical system of affirmative action to counteract the injustices of apartheid that privileged white people over black people. People weren’t going to hand over jobs out of the goodness of their hearts. It had to be systematic.

It’s the same with gender. We can talk diversity until we are blue in the face, but until there is systematic change – a quota – the patriarchy will continue to feed itself the bananas.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

6 thoughts on “Are quotas really so bad?

  1. Quota system is not saying take in a non-qualified person over skilled person, but rather take a hard look… might that female person equally be able to handle the responsibilities of the job? How often in life do we naturally glance towards the norm, the easy solution, rather than the untried? If you look at countries with a relatively health percentage of women in leadership positions (management and politics) they will have undoubtedly at one point in their recent history have had quotas. It’s only a starting point towards change, not the end solution.

    I have been working in Germany for 30 years now and I am a bit sick and tired of “let women win on merit” argument. If it could work, then wouldn’t the percentage of women in management have changed in all those years?

  2. Thanks for the rant. And what about all the women who nearly killed themselves but didn’t get a banana? I know what you mean about the women who think they deserved it more than the other women. I do get that too, but there really is a bigger problem to solve and a little unfairness amongst women could be tolerated, hey?
    Is it not also strange that men and women in positions of advantage still believe it was all merit and not a good dose of being born with certain advantages.
    Anyway, pass me a banana.

  3. p.s.I believe we need quotas for the next generation, less so for us, so we can avoid women killing themselves to get where they are..

  4. Great post, Charlotte. I was at a lunch recently where statistics for women on Boards were put up, and everyone was astonished by how many women there were in South Africa (compared to Australia’s measly 13%). Those diversity quotas made a difference to women as well as black people.

    I was quite against quotas until I read about Norway in some detail. And here in Australia, the threat of them has meant that 30% or so of new Board members are now women. I’ve met some of those women. They are excellent. And many of them wouldn’t be there without some voluntary quotas from the companies involved.

  5. Sorry, feel free to edit me to spell yur name right!

  6. I’m with you on this, Charlotte. Until there are enough women in senior positions we will be unable to show that they are equally competent – and may bring a slight shift in corporate cultures that will benefit everyone.

    Years ago, I was an Independent Visitor to a group of schools for children with behavioural difficulties. I was marginalised as much as they dared – but stuck my neck out at a meeting of heads, pointing out that they were all men. Cue much huffing and puffing, insistence they always appointed the best man etc. I simply said that women in senior positions would shift the culture of the organisation, make it less competitive – not a bad thing for the kids they were caring for. They shouted me down, of course – but the next head they appointed was a woman!!!! So they couldn’t actually admit I had a point, but must have thought about it afterwards.

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