Why Are We So Afraid of the Q Word?

Yesterday I referenced our appetite for research, data, measurements and how much, as women, we appreciate this interest in documenting our progress and lack of it. Today, I’m wondering, if we are so eager to get the numbers, review and analyze the data and use it to support strategies to strengthen the gains and address the losses...why aren’t we more willing to look at quotas?

Perhaps it is the word... quota. In the U.S., it's almost a dirty word -- associated with government interfering with business (which does come with certain risk, to be sure). Even more significant, I believe, for understanding women's resistance to advocating for quotas is a perception (or misperception, in this case) that to call for gender quotas is to admit lack of merit or ability to 'earn' our way to the top.

I threw out these questions to a group of highly educated, highly meritorious group of 400 women who gathered at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York to consider the findings of those numerous annual reports on the status of women. While many agreed that quotas appear to work in the growing number of countries who have legislated them for corporate boards, senior business management, and government representation, many expressed concern that quotas suggested that women couldn’t get to the top on their own. As good ol' Americans, we wanted to make it on hard work and merit!

Time to confess, I decided. I am actually a product of quotas. Yes, let the truth be known that I was hired for my job in television because the station that hired me (WBZ-TV in Boston) was responding to a federal initiative under the Equal Employment Opportunity Act which required broadcast stations operating under a public license to hire women and minorities. I dont remember if there was a specific number required for each station, but I do remember that each station responded to EEOC guidelines with a list of new hires who were women and minorities. I might have gotten that first job in TV without such a quota or measured incentive, but I will never know.

And why should it matter? I, like hundreds of other women, got my foot in the door to a previously all-male newsroom in the late sixties and early seventies, in part, because of a government policy. That policy and the people it brought in transformed many stations almost overnight to look more like the communities they were broadcasting in. The merit of the women and minorities who were hired were never questioned.

There was one measurement that was debated from time to time and that was the difference women and minorities and their voices and perspectives made by being in the media, inside the newsrooms, on the air, and behind the scenes. Perhaps that debate continues, because there are still so few women or minorities running media companies, owning them, or sitting on their boards. And there is still a huge under-representation and misrepresentation of women and girls across all media. So those quotas closed the early gaps, but we may need to think about different kinds of quotas, as well as optimizing our power as media consumers, to change the rest.

If we want change now, well, let’s face it, if we wanted change yesterday, why are we so resistant to one of the most proven accelerators for representational change?