Quite often we find people stuck deep in debates on whether quotas or reservations are of any benefit or not. On almost all of these occasions, the argument against quotas settles on the idea of ‘merit’ mattering more. The definition of merit is, of course, malleable and stretches to fit some convenience or the other. But, to put the idea of reservation at the nether end of benefit is to discourage equity for a more widely accepted notion of ‘equality’. The latter again works well in congruence with convenience, not demanding much in terms of structural reforms. And it is for that reason that it simply puts on a face of egalitarianism – if one may call it so – while proceeding with business as it was, nevertheless. If we ask why we do not see enough representation in any establishment, the answer expectedly asks you, in turn, to look at merit. If there’s been no show of merit, there will be no representation. But, follow-up questions that demand a definition of the same, or perhaps try to point out the different factors that work to build this abstraction called ‘merit’, are left unheard.
Set against this repetitive cycle of recommendations, façade of changes, and returns to ground zero, Germany’s boardroom quota for women is, though a small break, still enough to appreciate and laud as historic – as Franziska Giffey described it. With the new rule coming into being, companies with more than three members on its board will have to make sure that at least one of these is a woman. For those companies with a government share, the number would be 30% of the total members. The country did have a more voluntary provision that was put in place in 2015 but, as many have observed, this failed to make the corporate more diverse. There’s also a general perception now that the new rule could also nudge others in Europe to follow suit. This would be more than welcome.
There is reason to solidly believe that greater diversity in the corporate world will usher in better performance. The morose rigidity of constitution that businesses have followed for years and pulled right into their collective conscience gets shattered by such observations. It’s been detailed that diversity creates an atmosphere conducive to growth and innovation. What is most essential for success is openness to perspectives; a dais where numerous voices, all different in their own way, get to pitch their points of view without hindrance. By being inclusive, you engender creative liberty for all. And, it’s not just women who must be represented in greater numbers through the ranks of corporate – this applies to people of colour too.
A ‘glass ceiling’ today exists in all of the wrong places. Where everybody should be given a level field to progress is instead an irregular start-line that’s embellished by social, political, and economic factors that we simply cannot put aside as and when somebody else commands. These are the very things that have shaped each individual and you cannot take that away. Being historically distanced from privilege and ease that others nonchalantly take hold of, some people find hurdles strewn through their path. There really shouldn’t be a bar or limit to one’s achievements. This is why you need to alter the workspace than ask the people to ‘put up’ with what there is to offer in a rigid environment. The last thing an ambitious institution needs is inflexibility.
The quota rule should be considered by other countries as well. At the same time, it shouldn’t be reduced to a mere ‘compliance’ that flies over without meaning added. If you do something without understanding why it’s being done, there surely can’t be anything in future for us to look up to as a constructive result. On the other hand, if we see the ‘at least’ as a marker of what more we can do, there is hope that reforms will translate into actual benefits.