January 14 2011
Gender quotas at Davos
Nicole Kurokawa Neily
News comes from Europe that this year's World Economic Forum meeting, to be held in Davos next week, has imposed a gender quota to boost participation by women executives.
The issue of gender quotas is nothing new - a number of legislative bodies around the globe have instituted such policies, and the 2010 elections renewed the conversation in the United States. Europe has dabbled with the idea of instituting quotas on corporate boards, an idea that has yet to pass.
Unfortunately, quotas - either at Davos, on corporate boards, or in legislative bodies - are unlikely to address the underlying issues that have led to low participation rates by women.
One major barrier to women running for office? Incumbency, actually. The flip side of women making up only 17% of Congress is that men constitute 83% - and with reelection rates so high (2010 was lower than 2008, but still significant), it's hard for anyone to break in - men or women. Fortunately, it looks like this may be changing, slowly. But a more effective way to get serious about ending the "old boys' club" is not by addressing the "boy" part - but rather, by focusing on the "old" part through the use of term limits.
Compounding the lack of opportunity created by high incumbency rates is the fact that overall, the number of women who run for office is still relatively small. This figure has been rising - but still isn't par with the number of men who run for office. According to the Women's Campaign Forum, "50% less women than men consider of running for office. Of those, 30% less actually run, with only a fraction seeking higher office. ... However, when women do run, they win at equal rates to men." The ambition gap is a problem that must be addressed, both in politics and in the corporate world.
Let's not forget: a number of the women who won in November were of a very different political orientation than the women who have traditionally held office, proving that issues matter more to voters than gender.
If Davos, or other bodies, are determined to increase participation by women, they should implement reforms that would expand opportunities for talented, up-and-coming leaders - regardless of gender. Women have proven time and again that they're as good as their male counterparts (if not better!) - and I have every confidence that given the chance to prove themselves, they will shine.