DEBATE: Is it time to impose gender quotas on company boards to increase female representation?

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Greater gender balance on company boards ensures a more diverse and robust set of views (Source: Getty)

Is it time to impose gender quotas on company boards to increase female representation?

Katrina Usita, economist at OMFIF, says YES.

Quotas are the fastest way to increase female representation and improve gender diversity on boards. In 2011, there were 152 all-male FTSE 350 company boards. Now there are only eight, thanks to a voluntary quota they were encouraged to adopt.

Greater gender balance on company boards ensures that a more diverse and robust set of views informs strategic decisions. Boards with no female presence are missing out on this advantage, perhaps without even realising it. In the absence of a quota, there is little incentive for them to include women, especially since the benefits may not be apparent immediately.

Meritocracy only works when the playing field is wide and even. Companies that are used to appointing men constrain themselves to a limited pool of talent. To widen it, they need to start looking at qualified women whom they may not have considered before.

Gender quotas force companies to expand their selection pool and find the best individuals to join their boards.

Read more: Deloitte and EY partners push gender pay gaps wider

Nerissa Chesterfield, communications officer at the Institute of Economic Affairs, says NO.

Forcing companies to increase the number of women on boards is illiberal, ill-advised, and undermines the push for equality the pro-quota lobby is seeking. In a free market, people progress thanks to their ability and ideas, not their gender. Not only would such requirements place more regulatory burdens on companies, but filling positions based on anything other than merit is downright insulting to the women who end up getting promoted.

Dealing with supposed discrimination of one kind in this way introduces discrimination of another. There may be a wave of support for quotas right now, but if the shoe were on the other foot and the law forced primary schools to employ more men to better their prospects in education, would there be quite as much sympathy?

Politicians could make it easier for women to build their careers by, for example, deregulating the childcare sector to make it more affordable.

Women don’t need special privileges to succeed. Today, on International Women’s Day, we’re doing better than ever before, and that’s without the help of any patronising quotas.

Read more: Just one fifth of board members at construction companies are women

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