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California Quota Law: Empowerment or Impediment?

A new California law aimed at breaking the glass ceiling has become the buzz of boardrooms across the country. On Sunday, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill, passed by state legislators in August, requiring all publicly-traded companies headquartered in California to include at least one female board member by the end of the year.

By the end of 2021, boards with five members must include two women and boards with six members must include three or more—and “inclusion” is the operative word, here.

California quota law

The last two years have pulled back the curtain on a culture of closed doors; from the uphill battles women face in opening doors for a seat at the table to the horrors they face when—in a more literal sense—those doors are locked behind them.

But cultures don’t just “happen,” they’re grown; cultivated at the highest level of decision making and nurtured as the impact of those decisions trickles down to the rest of the firm.

The new California quota law aims to change the closed-door culture by ensuring women are represented in leadership and decision making. Yet, while the intention behind the new legislation has been widely praised, the forethought of its execution has raised some concerns.

Criticizing the concept of a forced quota in an article for Forbes online, Independent Women’s Forum President Carrie Lukas points to how the law might alter the perception of women who’ve risen to board positions on their own merits; that appointing female board members to avoid a non-compliance fine negates an acknowledgement of their hard-earned achievements and qualifications.

In her article, Lukas uses a 54% increase in female-held board seats from between 2010 and 2015 to question whether such a law needs to exist given the potential to create perceptions. This counteracts the empowering aspects—peripheral though they may be—of its intent. But pointing to one promising statistic provides a flimsy shield for the embarrassing truth behind another.

You see, this percentage comes from a Credit Suisse Research Institute study surveying over 3,000 companies across the globe. Also included in this study—and flinchingly acknowledged by Lukas—is the fact that, even after a 54% increase from 2010 to 2015, women still represented only 14.7% of board membership.

14.7% is not “we just couldn’t find any qualified candidates.” It’s not “we didn’t really think she was the right fit.” 14.7% represents a culture; a closed-door culture of presupposed male dominance and infallibility; a culture which this law aims to change.

So, what do you think? Does the 54% increase in board seats held by women represent enough of a positive change? Does the 14.7% hint at larger problems in empowering women in leadership roles? We want to hear from you! Share your thoughts on the new California quota law on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn or send us a message online!

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