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Research Reveals Quotas Are Not Enough to Tackle Gender Equality

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A holistic approach is needed to achieve gender equality and get more women to the top, according to new research from Nyenrode Business University.

A new gender quota has come into effect in the Netherlands this year. Listed companies must have at least one-third of their supervisory boards comprised women.

However, according to the research from assistant professor Rosalien van ’t Foort-Diepeveen, although a quota is necessary, it mainly changes the number of women in business. It does not automatically change attitudes or processes.

Her research shows that seven barriers impede the advancement of women to the corporate top. The most persistent barrier is gender stereotyping. This is when specific traits are often assigned to men, such as dominance and assertiveness, while women are given kindness and helpful characteristics. The research shows that this stereotyping negatively affect the assessment of women as good leaders, and consequently, women are less likely to be selected.

Other barriers that women face include devaluation, a masculine organisational culture, work-family balance, bias in recruitment and promotion, lack of mentors, role models and networks for women, and the ‘leaky pipeline’ phenomenon. The research shows that the barriers are interrelated and mutually reinforcing. This makes it complicated to overcome them. Therefore, several interventions are needed to make a change.

She investigated both governmental and organisational interventions to remove existing barriers. The study on the organisational interventions that four large Dutch companies conducted includes training to eliminate unconscious biases, mentoring programs, (female) development programs, and setting specific diversity targets for the percentage of female leaders.

However, assistant professor Van ’t Foort-Diepeveen said: ‘Having only organisational interventions is not enough. When companies develop specific interventions, commitment from the top is crucial for success. The board has to believe in it, act upon it and also has to promote it by measuring, evaluating and communicating it.’

‘A quota alone is also not enough; the quota in the Netherlands will only apply to women serving on the supervisory boards of listed companies. It affects only a small group. Therefore, the quota should also apply to the management board and a broader range of companies to bring about real change. I hope this creates a flywheel effect.’

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