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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Equality, Parental Leave and Quotas

Cynthia Godsoe and I have a little theme going this month, which is great fun.  In her last post, she talks about how the motherhood penalty is what drives gender inequality in the workplace.  Her account confirms some of the points I made in my previous post, "To Counter "Sexism's Puzzling Stamina," the State Must Lean In."  The motherhood penalty has perverse impacts on the professional lives of men and women as they go through their professional trajectories – men benefit from a lack of competition as they are presumed to be available to work longer hours and more flexibly, and women suffer, sometimes even if childless, from a presumption of fragility and demands on their time extrinsic to work. The policy solution I highlighted before was the need for thick gender neutrality in parental leave, one that served as the focus for my Unsex Mothering article.  The neutrality, especially as Sweden organizes it, encourages men to take parental leave and to engage more actively in their family lives.  As it becomes expected for men to participate in family life, their competitive benefit at the workplace will diminish.  

The complementary solution to more thickly neutral parental leave policies is to foster women’s inclusion in the workplace.  Women’s education in developed countries long ago caught up with men’s education levels, yet decades later women remain a small minority among high level managers, partners at law firms, and political representatives.  

Outside the United States many countries have begun to experiment with quotas to speed women’s advancement in leadership roles.    Quotas arouse an enmity and scorn across the U.S. political spectrum.  It may be for this reason that I've found them to be such a rich source to mine for understanding how other countries respond to inequality.  Over one hundred countries have some form of quota to increase women’s political representation, a phenomenon I worked on with regard to France's Parity.  

More recently, though, some countries have begun to experiment with quotas for corporate boards as a way to insert gender diversity into the private sector’s upper echelons.   Norway achieved this first with its 2003 quota, which I examined in Feminizing Capital.  The goal was to achieve gender balance with a forty percent floor that would apply to either sex, one that would ultimately protect men as well as women in case Hanna Rosin proves right in her End of Men prediction.

In addition to the equality argument, supporters of quotas point to the positive impact of women on corporate governance.   A critical examination of the “business case” is the focus of my current study, which I’ll discuss in the next post.  Here, I just wanted to highlight the important link between corporate governance and gender equality policy. The quotas complement the parental leave efforts in both policies attempt to render sex less relevant in terms of corporate success or parental responsibility. 


Posted by Darren Rosenblum on June 20, 2013 at 10:17 AM | Permalink


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Thanks all for these great comments. There is empirical data out there, notably by Amy Dittmar of Michigan. Very roughly put, Amy argues that the values of Norwegian corporations dipped as a result of the quota. The problem with empirical data is that it's so hard to isolate other impacts of economic shifts within firms and in economies more broadly from the matter of governance. My hunch is that it's equally difficult to imagine how exactly having women on the board (which plays a far less significant role than the executive committee) would matter for the corporation's decisions.

As to the point about state level quotas on political parties, it's worth noting that the political parties in Scandinavia began with representational requirements like these and then moved on to more substantial and rigorous quotas, whereas here this is really the exception. A fascinating exception nonetheless!

Posted by: Darren | Jun 21, 2013 2:15:13 PM

As you say, quotas are often scorned here, but there is one huge exception, and I've long been surprised that it doesn't get more attention or legal challenge.

Both major political parties have formal structures at the national level, and many (most? not sure) do at state levels, with fixed "man" and "woman" positions. That is, the Republican National Committee is made up of a Commiteeman and Committeewoman from each state. Within a state, the state committee is made up of a man and woman from each district.

These bodies are an odd state/private hybrid, in that they are the internal governing organs of the parties, but are often mandated by state laws, and are of course facilitated by state run elections.

Everytime I see on the ballot to vote between these two women for the "woman" spot, etc., I wonder: What if that were done with the actual legislature of my state? A set-aside female and male representative for my district? Congress? What if the Senate had a man and woman from each state, in separate races? Even local school board?

Of course, any such proposals would be lambasted. Also, the old party structures are often viewed by some not as a feminist victory, but as an old-school "gilded cage" set aside, with the women getting a guaranteed spot with less perceived power. But in voting to select a chair and such, all is equal.

Why is this? If viewed from the private aspect, it's amazing that the GOP, especially, has such a "set-aside" program. If viewed from the state-directed entity side, it's amazing that there's no legal challenge, as again, we would surely see such a challenge if any other public body were arranged that way.

(The parties have interesting rules re convention delegates, too, but those involves various other categories, so I won't get into that.)

Posted by: Joe Reader | Jun 21, 2013 9:31:34 AM

I, too, am interested in reading more about gender balance on corporate boards. This seems to be an area where empirical data would be dispositive. Either more women on boards leads to higher share prices or it doesn't. It will be interesting to see what the data says.

Posted by: Douglas Levene | Jun 20, 2013 10:01:20 PM

Thanks for the “shout out,” and I’m looking forward to reading more about gender balance on corporate boards.

As for gender equity at work more broadly, I am heartened by the 5th Circuit’s recent ruling that breastfeeding is “related to” pregnancy -- http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/12/12-20220-CV0.wpd.pdf. The Circuit overturned a ruling by judge Lynn Hughes (somewhat notorious for his racially inappropriate comments) who found that lactation was totally unrelated to pregnancy or childbirth. The lower court finding was surprising to medical experts (and surely, many women) since only women who have been pregnant can lactate.

Posted by: Cynthia Godsoe | Jun 20, 2013 4:07:04 PM

Thanks for the shout out, and I look forward to hearing more about the business case for gender balance on corporate boards.

As to gender equity among employees, I was heartened by this recent 5th Circuit decision that breastfeeding is "related" to pregnancy http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/12/12-20220-CV0.wpd.pdf. The Circuit overturned a decision by Judge Lynn Hughes (already notorious for racially problematic comments) who found that lactation was not related to pregnancy or childbirth. That was news to medical experts since only women who have been pregnant can lactate!

Posted by: Cynthia Godsoe | Jun 20, 2013 12:12:49 PM

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