Are gender quotas pointless?

Norway introduced quotas in the early 1990s to parachute women into top positions. Have they actually worked?

by Benny Geys

Women have historically been underrepresented in both business and politics. According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality (UN Women), only 24.3 per cent of national parliamentarians are women as of 2019. In the past 24 years, the number of women in parliament has only increased by 13 per cent. This is a small increase considering how far women’s rights are supposed to have progressed.

Governments are trying to resolve female under-representation by mandating more equal gender representation on, for instance, elections lists. Norway took one step further in the early 1990s by requiring that all executive boards in the public and private sectors included at least 40 per cent members of each gender. This gender quota was created explicitly to parachute women into top positions with executive powers, rather than waiting for a "trickle up" effect. (Pictured: Erna Solberg Norway's primeminister).

In the eyes of many, such quota are great news. Johanna Sigurdardottir, former Prime Minster for Iceland, recently remarked in the New York Times that “after a 35-year career in Icelandic politics, I have concluded that women are generally better than men at ensuring fairness in society. The world would truly be a better place if equal numbers of women and men were at the helm.”

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