A recent article by Uri Friedman in the Atlantic Wire noted that in an effort to
increase gender diversity, this year’s World Economic Forum will require that one of the five attendees from each participating corporation must be a woman. Apparently, female representation at this exclusive, invitation-only event has been lacking. Mr. Friedman points out that total number of female participants has hovered at a shockingly low 17%.
While at first glance this might seem like a reasonable and even commendable target it has produced a flurry of varying responses. From Elena Moya of the Guardian who argues that this target is too low, to Kristy MacArthur of Heartwood Wealth Management who feels that women should earn these positions of power, not receive it due to a quota system.
This conversation harkens back to the rancorous US Affirmative Action debates of the 90s and early 00s. Much of this debate centered on hiring policies and college admissions systems that gave preference and/or additional weight to women and minorities. Some argued these policies actively promoted reverse discrimination.
In the US Federal Government, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) is targeted at increasing the presence of women and minorities working in the federal sector. This policy has been successful such that women now make up almost 50% of the Federal workforce. It should be noted that it is not entirely clear how much of this is a direct result of EEO policies and how much is due additional external factors.
However, what is clear is the rising role of women in the US Foreign Policy. Over the last 13 years, 3 of the 4 Secretaries of State have been women. Today women hold one third of all US ambassadorships. Countries where the current US Ambassador is female include the Ivory Coast, Argentina, Costa Rica, Laos, Mozambique and South Korea.
This while it remains to be seen how the quota system for the World Economic Forum will play out, I think that by setting a reasonable (and certainly achievable) minimum the WEF will be setting a standard that may begin to establish new industry-wide norms. At that point, gender quotas may no longer be necessary or realistic. Lets hope that this is the case.