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2d05 – Quotas promote diversity

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It is a much researched and widely accepted fact that diversity – whether it is gender, ethic or other forms of diversity – is good for business and society. But how do we achieve this in a world that clearly favors men over women or has a hard time balancing numerous conscious and unconscious biases? Sebastian and Dirk debate one of the common tools in that battle – quotas and Dirk argues against their use while Sebastian starts by advocating for it.

Also there is a resource we mentioned in this episode to test your own unconscious biases in a test developed by Harvard. Because unfortunately we’re all biased, no matter the gender or background… Follow this link for more details and surprising insights into your own biases.

Image Source: CC0, Pixabay, 


Episode Transcript

Sebastian – Hello everyone and welcome to our latest edition of, our podcast of debates. I am Sebastian and my co-host here is Dirk. Hello, Dirk, how are you?

Dirk – I’m excited, I’m gonna crush you today.

Sebastian – Oh wow! That sets the tone! What is the motion today?

Dirk – Today’s motion is that “quotas promote diversity”. By the flip of a coin, we decided that you’re going to be for the motion and I’m going to argue against the motion.

Sebastian – So with a flip of the coin, we also decided that I will start so I’ll be in favour of quotas to promote diversity.

Sebastian – Despite the best efforts to promote diversity, and also equal pay and everything that goes with it, it goes without saying that things are not changing fast enough. Otherwise, we would not be debating today. Otherwise, the topic would not be raised all the time in our modern societies, so clearly something needs to be done. Something needs to be done to change how things are happening, and diversity can include many types of individuals. We think mostly of women and we can talk extensively about this topic, but also people with disabilities, people of colour and [anyone] else that we can think of, of minorities. So clearly we need to do this because it is not moving fast enough. Secondly, why should we do this in the first place? Just to set the context, with diversity comes innovation, comes creativity. I don’t think we will disagree on this, hopefully, but also an increased pipeline [of talent]. If we focus a bit more and we make sure that we have a certain minimum threshold of different types of profiles, then we ensure to have a consistent and regular pipeline of that diverse talent. And finally, quotas do not have to be rigid structures. They can simply be minimums. It doesn’t have to be parity. I’m not claiming that we should go for parity right away, because maybe we’re coming from too far away in some cases, so there is not enough women who maybe are in scientific courses at university, I don’t know. I’m just saying quota does not mean parity. It can be a minimum, so that we set a nice target to start from and say “hey, maybe we should have thirty percent, forty percent of the board members in the big companies to be women”. In fact, this is what the EU has voted and will be implemented by 2020, including in Germany already it’s already the case, including in Norway since 2003. So the trend is happening and there are successful results and I’ll get back into this in my next three minutes afterwards. The results are showing that quotas actually work, so clearly we should do this to promote diversity.

Dirk – Starting my clock now. And yes, we agree: diversity promotes creativity, promotes the pipeline, increases the likelihood of having a positive work environment. Still, I argue by introducing quotas, we are actually treating the symptom and not the root cause. So we’re trying to cure the disease by treating something that we observe, which actually doesn’t help that much, because we’re not getting anywhere with it. I especially think that quotas set up people being quoted for failure in three ways, and this is especially true for gender quotas, I believe. So first, quotas that promote a distinct group to be hired, even if the qualification doesn’t merit that hiring, have in turned a negative effect on all others in the sector, because they may be seen as a quota-hire – and therefore be less respected for their skill. That’s something reported over and over by women in the workplace. So actually we increase the bias that we try to fight. Second, on one hand we like to get to a society that is not biased based on gender but on the other hand, we enforce a gender bias quota, come on, there got to be a better way. It’s actually not even treating the symptom, it’s increasing the problem. And it’s against equal opportunity: it’s not balancing out the thing that we try to balance by removing a bias, so it’s a tool to even enforce them further. And the third aspect of it is quotas defer the responsibility to organizations, instead of driving the social and political change that we need. And so in summary, if the purpose is to promote equality and participation of, for instance women, we need to dismiss quotas because they are actually fixing the status quo instead of tackling the problem at its root cause.

Sebastian – Thank you, Dirk. So I’m glad we agree that diversity fosters creativity. We say there’s got to be better ways? The thing is you’re not actually providing any better way. And indeed sometimes you need to treat the symptom because the disease’s too difficult to actually identify where it is. Sometimes you actually need to try and do something and it actually works. It actually works and the reason I say this is there’s been studies which I looked into in terms of how financial performance has been increased. They were looking at Fortune 500 companies and over a period of five years, if you look at the top quartile versus the lowest quartile of these companies, and ordered by female boardroom representation, actually the ones with more females in the boardroom had 16% minimum increase in return on sales, etc. etc. So there’s actual demonstration that even by treating the symptom, it actually leads to positive results. Now more than this: it is not just about financial results. The thing is these women can also serve as role models, because you put them in a position of visibility: it will actually treat the disease also because it will get more women to, let’s say, going to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) fields, they will go into science, tech and other related areas where there is a dire lack of women who want to pursue careers in scientific areas. So by forcing it a little bit, you actually ignite it. Additionally, we need to fight against something that you mentioned yourself: biases – and I encourage everyone to actually go online and search for the Harvard project “Implicit”. It will actually test your unconscious bias. You will see: every one of us has unconscious bias. So even though we think we’re not biased against women, just to give an example, or against people of color if you’re, let’s say, white, you actually see that you’re actually unconsciously biased – and this is scary because it will influence everything in your way of talking to other people, in your way of hiring people. So we are all biased: we already have this bias, so yes, there is that risk of people considering that those women, let’s say, as an example, would be not taken seriously because they’ve been hired in terms of a quota as opposed to merit. But we don’t have to reduce the quality bar: this is up indeed to organizations to decide not to reduce their quality bar here. And the quota does not have to be introduced everywhere. We can also do this in organizations or areas where the sample size is large enough. Maybe if we talk about a tiny organization of four people, maybe it doesn’t make sense to force parity, in this case, of 50/50. Let’s not forget the motion here is promoting diversity. We’re not promoting equality of pay, which I’m in favor of, we’re saying quotas will help promoting diversity and this is the case which I’m advocating for here. You can see, as a counterexample, countries like Japan have only 3% of women in their boardrooms. They don’t have any laws to promote diversity. Clearly, the results are not there, so we see this over and over again.

Dirk – So let me respond to a couple of things you just said. Quotas may promote women or other minorities in the boardroom as you said or in other places in the company. But for real promotion of diversity, you actually need to have equal chance of being successful. You actually need to have an equal value, and if you look into studies, the fact of the matter is and as a result, women still earn less money for equal work than men do. And if that is a sign of success and if that is a sign of opportunities to be diverse in the workplace, well, if you want to create role models but those role models are hired in their position by a quota and earn less than their male counterparts, you can argue that those are weak role models. And in the end, once you remove the quota, we have no real diversity in those areas because the unconscious bias still prevails. And those, let’s call it that way, quota-hires are actually stopped and being really successful and being real role models. Examples you ask for? Maybe promoting equal opportunity to really participate, for instance by encouraging when it comes to gender equality, men to stay at home for childcare, promoting equal pay, ensuring that people can actually contribute by ensuring accessibility to buildings, by ensuring accessibility to software and other important elements: all these are things we can and should and will do. There are initiatives in place trying to tackle that that are not going far enough. And that is actually my main critique: we kind of cover up with quotas aspects where we should do more and need to invest more by hiding the symptom instead of really putting it out in the open. Other examples of this like religious diversity and ethnic diversity: I would make an argument that we actually limit ourselves by always thinking about just those large groups of quotas. If you really think through it, at some point you need to quota pretty much all aspects of our lives. So there’s no end to the quota idea and I believe there may be more impact by tackling the actual problems in society than to have quotas.

Sebastian – What you’re saying Dirk is great but it’s not incompatible with having quotas as well. You can have different measures. Promoting equal pay? Great! Well, we’re in agreement. Let’s have quotas as well, that’s what I’m saying! We’re not saying the only thing. And, by the way, we don’t have to start with every single group. In fact, Sweden has also considered illegal to introduce ethnic quotas in universities, but they promote quotas for women in other instances, so of course we can mix-and-match where it makes sense and have sample sizes wherever it makes sense. I want also to show how igniting this actually trickles down to the private sector: in Norway, they’ve imposed this for public-listed companies, where women have to be in the boardroom – a minimum of forty percent. It has actually trickled down to the private sector where no law has been edicted, so actually you see more women because it trickles down, because people are encouraged to do it. And also by having these role models, you initiate a unique talent hotbed. You’ll get more women to be inspired to do this. And finally, maybe we can also play on that unconscious bias whereby women are more likely to hire women if they’re in a position of power. It’s exactly the same unconscious bias I’m describing to that positive effect. And finally, I love women: let’s give them space!

Dirk – You know what really promotes diversity? Focusing on the things that you need in your position. So for instance, orchestras started doing their, is it called a hiring when people demonstrate their ability to play songs behind a curtain: so you don’t see if it’s a woman or a man who plays. And all of the sudden, you have a 50-50 hiring rate because it’s focused on the real quality of the music, not on the quota. The same is true for many, many other areas of the industry as well. So by removing for instance names and pictures, it’s proven in studies that this promotes diversity at least as much as having an artificial quota, while focusing on skills. And that’s my main argument: having a quota actually kills the idea of being hired for your skills and your contribution over the value of having a symptom cured which does not really help the root cause.

Sebastian – Nice, so that’s it, we’re done with today’s debate! Let us know what you think. Vote on the motion yourself. Go on our website and do not hesitate to let us know what you thought and if we could have come up with other arguments to make a better case and we’ll review that feedback and possibly talk about it in another podcast. Stay tuned!

Dirk – Thank you, Sebastian! Tell me, are you a favor or not? I never can tell after our debates but…

Sebastian – I’m so much into this thing that I espouse the motion that I try to defend that it makes it so hard afterwards. I think initially I’m not in favour – and by researching it, I’m confused. It’s what I’m saying: I’m becoming so passionate and then I just forget what I think, what I think afterwards. I don’t know, I mean, it’s your point: afterwards, you can put quotas on everything. Where’s the limit? Somebody’s going to complain and say “hey I’m part of a religion, a region which does not like the color blue: I would like to have five percent representation in every boardroom”. That’s against freedom of speech so… We’re going to tie [all our debates] together at some point. All those people who complain, we’re going to send them to Mars. Oh my God, we’re going to have this massive thing like it’s going to be free flow of migration towards Mars. We’re going to send women because it’s a quota, and people of color. And because we don’t deny the Holocaust, we’re going to let them do whatever they want on planet Mars because our laws apply to Earth, not to Mars. This is going to be become a horrible construction of our minds.

Dirk – Yeah I mean, I like the exercise. For me, I have to say, I’m chronically short on prep time, which keeps biting me. So whenever you’re making your arguments, I feel like “oh gosh, I could have seen that coming!” My prep grows and grows. From the first time, we’ve basically improvised the whole thing to now, where I start collecting notes and pointers. At some point I’m going to kill you for that “oh you don’t point me to real facts” by just throwing numbers in the first 10 seconds at you and pointing to studies for my three minutes all the time so you can just shut up about that. But it’s a really interesting exercise to be forced into one side of the aisle.

Sebastian – It is, it forces you to really… I defended like a lawyer: you just defend your client the best you can. You’re not thinking whether the client is guilty or not, you’re just trying to do the best for that cause. Here is the additional interesting thing: it actually also forces me to espouse it without contradicting myself at core. I’m not going to say something which I actually feel like is going to be philosophically wrong or ethically wrong. Everything I say here, I actually could defend it. Maybe in the end, I may not agree with it because I feel that the arguments against it or for are stronger, but everything I’m saying, I actually think there’s value in it.

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