Governments Must Legislate Gender Quotas for Companies
The spirit of female representation in parliaments does not always translate into a commitment to ensure a proportional gender representation in companies’ hiring practices.
Diversity quotas – a form of affirmative action designed to guarantee a certain proportion of representation of under-represented groups, such as in relation to gender, ethnicity, or nationality in an institution, is a much-needed intervention to ensure inclusion in the workplace. Yet unfortunately, the behavior toward diversity quotas is quite mixed when it comes to gender quotas. The gender quotas are perceived to surrender the merit aspect of a person’s candidature. The against opinion further believes that the quota is discriminating against male candidates and violating fair practices to satisfy the intent of achieving a superficial notion of equality.
A measure of fairness in hiring is conditional on the background behind a person’s merit. Does a woman with zero work experience among candidates with five years’ work experience make the choice to not work or is there some story behind her unemployment? When a job posting only attracts 10 percent of female applicants, is it because women are not interested? The problem does not begin from the recruitment process, but rather originates from the social, economic, and political structures that unfairly locate women as passive actors. From the demand side, women might feel hesitant to apply for a certain position because they deem themselves unqualified for the position, that their education is not good enough, or that they are unable to balance between work and child-rearing responsibilities – that should have been a partnership duty between couples. Or it could simply be that the vacancies information does not reach them. From the supply side, there could be some unintended or intended biases that disqualify women from undertaking the job. So, the purpose of gender quotas is to counter this unfairness. When will women get the opportunity if they are clearly in a disadvantageous state compared to men that have already benefitted from various perks?
There has been an increase in the number of countries that publicly declare the commitment to gender equality in the workplace. Some do it in a gender-neutral way, such as recommending that at least 40% of men and 40% of women must represent the board. Recommendations by International Organizations such as UN Women also boosted the spirit of gender diversity in the workplace. Achieving this ambition necessitates long-term hard work with many twists and turns. Even Sweden had to work on the goal for 80 years in order to reach 45 percent of women’s representation in politics.
But the declaration is not enough. Gender quotas require legalization. So far, this has mainly been done in parliaments. Meanwhile, gender quotas in companies have not been universally endorsed by policymakers. It should ideally apply in both politics and the economy, or else this action would continue to let women in other sectors suffer. But apart from waiting for Governments to legalize this practice, companies should embrace practices that encourage underrepresented gender in certain occupations, which could be men or women. We should not undermine the power of encouraging words written in vacancy announcements for women to apply because that is done on the basis of historical disadvantages of women. Even the UN women called the policy temporary special measures to improve the status of women because this practice is not done due to preference but as a concerted effort to overcome social injustices.
Companies should also recognize how algorithms in digital recruiting platforms can somehow prevent one gender from accessing the job posting since it has been documented that Google’s algorithm somewhat provides information on high-quality jobs to males but not females. LinkedIn, for example, has become the leading digital recruiting platform with as many as 190 million users in the United States and 87 million users in India. It would be such as loss of opportunity if a platform that could equalize access to jobs between gender instead hide the adverts from females. Companies should utilize a mixture of strategies to attract a balanced number of candidates per gender by using the right keywords, hashtags, and captions, and even design that will ensure the job post reaches both genders with equal probability and does not discourage any gender to apply.
New ideas emerge as alternatives by suggesting a blind recruitment process where the company looks at job applications anonymously in order to neutrally determine who advanced to the next selection stage or is even hired for the job. This strategy is flawed because it does not suit recruitment that involves interviews, in which gender biases might become inevitable. But even if the job application processes do not entail any interviews, blind recruitment will only work in a truly just world, and it only addresses the supply side issue of gender inequity in the workplace.
Firms also need to conduct more training on gender biases that could alleviate hesitation toward gender equality. ILO Action Plan on Gender Equality vividly stresses the imperative of mainstreaming gender equality in all spheres. An example is Cuba: the culture of machismo is so pervasive in Cuba to the extent that the working women have to endure a double burden to take care of household chores and child-rearing activities whilst men have complete freedom after working hours.
To fight against existing injustices, we shall not stand still and assume merits are the answer to all. Governments need to act, firms need to act, and civil society needs to act so we will reach a diverse working environment, not color the workplaces, but manifest gender equality so that no one will feel less than what they actually could be.
This article is featured in JUSTIN Development Review (JDR) Vol. 02 Issue 02 — June 2022