Quotas For Women – For or Against?

Quotas for women – a vital step towards equality or demeaning and patronising?


It is something that I was thinking about last week. Are we doing ourselves a favour when we insist on quotas for women, whether in the workplace, in politics, or in education.

In this article from the Independent, Helena Morrissey argues that the impetuous from companies themselves, and the investors are more important than quotas set by governments or the EU. The attitudes of employers need to change, and this will not happen overnight.

Recently a friend told me that her boss had remarked that it was good that she was a woman, because they wanted to promote more women. My friend was left with the impression that her career advancement was due to her gender, rather than her work performance, and wondered if her male colleagues felt the same way, and resented her for this. Instead of empowering her, this “quota” was patronising and demoralising. It took the pride and satisfaction out of her work.

It also made me wonder about the inofficial male quota – the status quo as it were. How unfair it is that women are made to feel inadequate by this kind of comment, when men have traditionally always been promoted before women. No one made them feel that they were being unfairly pushed in front of a more suitable candidate. It seems women are losing this battle twice.


True equality will only be reached when the best person for the job is chosen, regardless of gender.


More women in the boardrooms and in management position can be achieved, not by quotas but by improving working conditions for women, enabling more women to advance in their chosen profession. This means decent maternity leave provision, flexible working hours and affordable childcare.

We don’t need this just for women, but also for men so that families can structure their work according to the phase of life that they are in. Parents of young children could jobshare, work part-time or from home thus sharing the responsibility of child raising.

We need more acceptance of the “houseman”, of the father who takes paternity leave and stays home for a period of time while the children are young.

It must be accepted that both mother and father are equal parent, and that either of them should be able to take time off to accompany the child to the doctor, or stay home with a sick child.


Switzerland is extremely backward when it comes to Women’s Rights, and it is one reason that I am glad to be back in the UK. It is much easier for me to work here and there is less overt sexism in society. When I worked in Germany, I would have said that the society was quite progressive and pro-feminism, but I am not so sure about that now. With the benefit of hindsight and some distance, I can see that Germany is in some ways far ahead of UK but there is a deep seated unterschwellige (hidden) sexism. Who can forget the patronising name that the German media used for the then protégé of the then Bundeskanzler, Angela Merkel:  Kohl’s Mädchen. (Kohl’s Girl). Or Kanzler Schröder jokingly calling the Ministry for Families “Ministerium für Frauen und Gedöns” – which roughly translates to Women and Fuss Ministry.

Quotas were in the news in Germany this week as the liberal coalition partner FDP spoke against the Frauenquote, despite top female journalists calling for a 30% quota of women in executive positions at Germany’s media companies.


There is no easy answer, but at present I am not convinced that quotas are the right way forward. What do you think?






  • chloe

    Great piece! In my workplace we are approx 50/50 male female split with a very high % of women in senior positions of which many work reduced schedules/work from home. We are working to increase the “quota” of men who work reduced schedule by offering a longer initial paternity leave (2weeks vs standard 3days), family care leave, flexible sabbatical and daily digital tools to keep in touch with your team. Our problem is the wives of our male colleagues, they don’t want their husbands at home in their way! Ironic!

    • Lynn

      I can see their point, to be honest. When my husband had been home for a couple of weeks, I was glad that he went back to work so that we could get back into a routine. Not so much with my second child, was glad to have him home then.

      Your workplace sounds very progressive.

  • Helen (QueenofBiscuits on twitter)

    Erm why is there a bird flying around your blog?

    I am both for and against quotas. I think they are needed because we do need more females in senior positions but unfortunately by promoting women because of their gender rather than their skills you could end up with the wrong person in the job thus hurting the view of women in the workplace even more. If that makes any sense.

    • Lynn

      It is a Twitter bird. If you click it, it takes you to Twitter.

      Yes, that is a good point. Do we really want less qualified women representing our gender in the boardrooms, thus presenting the men with an argument against promoting any woman.

  • LittleMe

    Quotas for women sitting on company boards is an issue which is coming up a lot in my line of work at the moment.

    I don’t honestly see the point in quota for women or any other group of people to be honest. I don’t think it would add any value to the role. And I would,’t like to think I was sitting on the board of any company because I am a woman – I would rather have earned my place. And if quotas do come in and I was then appointed to a board I would wonder if I was there as an empty equality gesture or if the shareholders believed that I really had something to contribute.

    What I am trying to say is that I think it would be patronising. Attitudes do need to change, but not by force.

    • Lynn

      Finding the right balance is the key, I think. More women is good, but only if they are promoted because of their ability.

  • HR

    Interesting blog post, not sure where I stand!

    I think the point of quotas is not to promote/appoint people who don’t merit the position but encourage those doing the appointing to diversify in their view (which might otherwise be ‘appoint in your own image’). A bit like a Flexible Working Request needs a good business reason to be declined – if there was a good business reason to waive the quota (e.g. no suitable candidates etc) then that would be fine but it would at least have to be *thought* about first.

    Anyway, you might be interested in this article:

    • Lynn

      Yes, that is a good thought. Not sure how it would work in practice, you would know more about that.

      I do see the need for change, but am not sure quotas are the way of effecting it.

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