The Case for Quotas

Quotas or the merit principle? I’ve seen persuasive cases made for each. But some recent long term meta-research sways me towards the case for quotas.

Traditional measures to increase organisational diversity have failed. Mandatory diversity programs haven’t worked and may make matters worse (people learn the lines and ignore the sentiment behind them). Recruitment testing hasn’t worked (people can ignore the results). Performance ratings haven’t worked (women and people from minority groups tend to receiver poorer reviews whatever their performance). Robust grievance procedures haven’t worked (people don’t trust them and therefore use them only when they’re desperate; complaints drop and organisations conclude there is no problem).

What does work?  Increasing contact with disadvantaged groups works. ‘Gosh, they’re not so bad after all. Wonder what the fuss was about?’

Quotas are one way to increase contact with people from disadvantaged groups. So are formal mentoring and sponsoring programs aimed at people from minority groups. Cross training and job rotation work when they involve contact between different groups of people. High-level diversity task forces that examine the causes of low diversity and find ways to increase diversity work, too.

Compliance isn’t the answer. Steps to protect the organisation from complaints and litigation aren’t the answer. Stealth seems to be a more effective way to increase diversity.

If you want to read more about this study and these and other measures that increase diversity, check out Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev’s article, Why Diversity Programs Fail, in the July-August 2016 edition of Harvard Business Review.