Getting to gender parity: Are quotas necessary?

Hilary Pearson and Laetitia Gill

Alliance editors have asked: should a time-limited quota be introduced in relation to gender diversity on the boards of foundation?

Maja Spanu and Axelle Davezac, of the Fondation de France, answered this question in their September 2023 article for Alliance Magazine.  They argue that ‘gender quotas, while not a perfect solution, are a crucial step towards greater equality, especially when considering boards.’ Importantly, they qualify their argument for quotas by suggesting that they should be limited in time: ‘long enough for mentalities to shift’. Our view from Canada is that while diversity and gender equity are essential to ensure a collaborative and inclusive philanthropic sector, quotas, even if time-limited, are not a means to achieve that outcome, particularly for private and family-led foundations.

Spanu and Davezac acknowledge that, in addition to quotas, foundation boards need to change a wider set of practices. These practices include term limits for board members, setting up diversity and inclusion training programs and adopting recruitment and decision-making role allocation processes with equity in mind.  We couldn’t agree more with the need for change in practice: it is all about changing mindsets, or mentalities.

But do quotas themselves work to change mentalities?  Perhaps… but only if they are treated as aspirational targets. The Government of Canada has taken a lead in setting aspirational targets for diversity through its 50-30 Challenge in collaboration with Canadian corporations, nonprofits and diversity organizations. The 50-30 Challenge encourages participants to meet two goals: 50 percent parity of gender (women and/or non-binary individuals) in senior management and on boards; and 30 percent representation on boards and in senior management of members of equity-deserving groups.

Next Opinion to read

Coming in to land

Andrew Milner