Rethinking Gender Quotas

I’m a woman in my early 20’s nearing the end of my (very expensive) uni degree. As I’m nearing graduation, thinking about my job prospects is already making me feel like this:


So as a woman who’ll be looking for a “grown-up” job in the near future, I usually try to avoid thinking about anything that could disadvantage me in the job market. Until now.

Female representation in high-level positions isn’t looking too great in Australia at the moment. Only 14.2% of chair positions, 23.6% of directorships and 15.4% of CEO positions are held by women in Australia.


So why is there such poor representation in the workplace when studies show that:

“Gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their peers and ethnically-diverse companies are 35% more likely to do the same.”

“Companies with more women on the board statistically outperform their peers over a long period of time.”

“Inclusive teams outperform their peers by 80% in team-based assessments.”

Could it be that we need to make changes to gender representation at the parliamentary level before we can expect equal representation at the corporate board level?

“Australia is a representative democracy. … [we] vote for candidates to carry out the business of governing on [our] behalf”.

So if the point of having a democratic government is to have our top decision-makers make choices which are representative of the population’s demographics, the fact that our current government consists of only 23.5% female representatives is pretty poor.


In the Global Gender Gap report 2016, Australia is ranked only #61 for political empowerment, compared to New Zealand at #16 (and Iceland at #1).

The Liberal National Party has only 23.5% female parliamentary members. And Labor’s current female representation is actually not too bad, with 42.5% female representation in parliament, which is comparative to Sweden’s 43.6%. (By the way, Sweden is at #6 for political empowerment in the Global Gender Gap report 2016 – much better than #61!)

Is the LNP lagging behind the Labor party because it doesn’t have quotas like the Australian Labor party?

Maybe Labor is doing so well on this front because they “currently [have] a gender quota of 40% female MPs, with the goal of increasing the quota to 50-50 within the next 10 years.” And their “results from the 2016 election demonstrate clearly the effectiveness of quotas for increasing the representation of women in leadership.”

The main argument against gender diversity quotas is that ‘we should be hiring and electing on merit only’.  For example, the LNP’s policy says “One of the great values of the LNP is that all positions, whether organisational or parliamentary, are elected on merit. Unlike the Labor Party that has specific quotas for electing women, the LNP believes in choosing the best person for the job, regardless of gender.”

(yeaaahh that policy usually works out just fine by the way...)

(yeaaahh that policy usually works out just fine by the way…)

Of course merit should be taken into account. However, is this enough to make change in my working lifetime? As Ros Harvey (advocate of corporate responsibility and labour standards) points out “why not have targets, or even legislated quotas, if decades of other methods haven’t worked. It’s the definition of insanity – to keep doing the same thing and expect different results. Quotas work and they set a hard metric.”

Introducing quotas in parliament and in the corporate world is contentious. A University of Melbourne research paper says “Mandatory quotas [are] the most criticised and contested of all forms of government intervention, yet [are] also the most successful in gaining female participation on listed companies’ boards”

To be successful in my career, can I rely on the current pace of change to ensure my gender doesn’t work against me? Given the Labor party’s gender quota has shown results, maybe merit is not enough.


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