To quota or not to quota, that is the question?

When I started this blog, I knew that one day I’d have to address a topic slightly more controversial than the ones treated until now. The day has come, and we’re going to talk about the very contentious subject of quotas! Indeed, although I’ve been wanting to talk about it for some time, I pushed it back as much as I could to avoid potential harsh criticism. Only recently I found an article by the amazing Isabella Lenarduzzi covering the question « Quotas are a medicine for an ill society ». It’s fate, I can’t avoid it any longer,this article has to be written.

She talks about Belgium, where the laws are different than in France, but the problems are the same. She mentions the BNB and the low number of women in governing bodies.

But the true purpose of the article is to ask the question that everyone wonders deep down when talking about quotas. As Isabella said so well« « Doesn’t this quota system have a humiliating aspect for women,named because they’re women and not necessarily because of their skills? »Humiliating, no. Stigmatizing, yes. I know what I’m talking about: in many panels, I’m often the female-quota. Without the quotas, I probably wouldn’t be invited. Quotas are a medicine for a sick society. A society suffering from the“entre-soi”, from mimicry.

Do I agree with Isabella? Am I in favor or no of quotas? I won’t keep the mystery alive much longer, I’ll admit it right away – I’m for quotas – entirely, 1000%pro-quotas, all the while dreaming that one day we’ll alleviate their importance.

In my first article, I was talking about how I was recruited by Schlumberger at a time where they weren’t hiring women. A few years later, a rule of parity was implemented. By the way, the origin of this change isn’t anecdotal. Indeed, the CEO’s daughter, who had just graduated, complained to her dad about the sexism she encountered during her job search. Her dad, of course, was angered by such discrimination. However, he wondered “what about the company I manage?” After looking into it, he was surprised to find out that less of 1% of the field recruits were women! He decided to change that number as soon as possible, and as he was an “action-man”, he immediately established recruitment quotas.

One argument from people against quotas is: does that mean they only hire women because they’re women? Yes and no. Yes, they’re partly recruited for that –positive discrimination, but also and above all because they have the required skills. A recruiter needs to do his job, which is to hire the best possible candidate for the job, regardless of sex. A quota won’t be a good enough reason to hire someone who doesn’t meet the requirements, as they’ll just become a source of problems for their manager, who would probably come back and yell at the recruiter. The recruiter would not keep his job very long! However, there’s no shortage of young ladies graduates that are both motivated and qualified! Why not turn towards them?

So,quotas, what do they change? It simply forces companies who aren’t necessarily known for their parity to implement a policy to attract women. When we ask little 8-year old what they want to do when she grows up, very few answer“field engineer on an oil rig”. Therefore, instead of trying to dismiss female applicants to avoid the hassle, as they did with me back in 1989, recruiters need to explain to them why they’re made for the job. To become more attractive, a few methods exist. First, saying loud and clear, through different campaigns, that women are welcome. Then, inviting pioneers or senior women to schools, conferences, etc. to attest the fact that it’s an amazing job opened to all. For instance, with their quota policy, Schlumberger’s recruiting of women field engineers increased to 15% in about 10 years, and to about 30%after 20 years.

And when it comes to promoting an employee? Same thing. Once again, and I say it often, companies aren’t going to name “female – flowerpots” because there’s a required performance level to reach and the only way to do that is to promote the most competent person for the job, regardless of gender. Quotas are simply going to oblige them to go and find the infamous “talented – quiet” women that I often talk about. They’re women that aren’t in the limelight or don’t dare to apply for a job that they want even though they’re perfectly qualified for the position. It’ll allow them to wonder “the five potential replacements for this position are all men, maybe I’m missing out on a qualified woman?” Of course, a male might be picked over his female counterpart, and if he’s more competent,it’s completely normal! However, quotas force managers to ask themselves if they should put a woman at such or such job. And it prevents this cycle to start again, where male managers are replaced by similar profiles, male as well, creating a vicious mechanism where a woman never seems to fit in.

We don’t have a choice. If we want to disrupt codes and conventions and we really want things to move forward, then so-called “male” industries need to hire more women. And the only way to see the curve evolve is by giving quantitative goals to stakeholders.

But women themselves are against quotas? Yes,indeed, I hear female friends say: I don’t want to be a female quota. But I don’t believe it – for the reasons mentioned above. And when a woman truly believes it, that means that the destabilization technique of some of her male colleagues, who don’t see this feminization with a good eye, is working well.

And yes, if I get asked the question, of course I’ve had some jobs because I’m a woman. Or, at least, it’s the case with my current job. My boss wanted a woman to kill two birds with one stone – have an expert in the field while feminizing his management line, therefore bringing in a role model for his diversity plan. Does this make my action less credible?Absolutely not. It compensates for all the jobs that me or others didn’t get because of gender.

In conclusion, to come back to Isabella’s article“Quotas are a medicine for an ill society” – and like every medicine, it’s something we would like to eradicate. A medicine that the industry needs to keep taking until it’s properly treated. The day the number of women recruited in different industries will be sufficient (I know, we could add a chapter on the definition of “sufficient”, but today I leave that up to you) – that day,everyone, me first, will be very glad to stop quotas!

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