Boardroom Shuffle


The Daily Mailreported the other day that British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron is studying the possibility of imposing compulsory quotas for women in company boardrooms—a demand previously made by Labour’s Harriet Harman, and previously derided by the Conservatives while in opposition. Apparently, Mr. Cameron is drawing inspiration from Scandinavian countries, where companies are required by law to ensure that at least 40% of board members are women.

No mention has been made of exactly how this will improve operational efficiency, the quality of products and customer service, or profitability.

I have no problem with women in boardrooms if they are there for the right reasons—meaning, they are the most skilled persons for the job not currently employed elsewhere. But I do have a problem with the government, which knows nothing about my company’s needs, telling me whom I must hire and whom I must promote, to what positions, and how soon.

Having long known management consultants whose clients have been either among the industry leaders nationwide or prestigious multinationals (indeed, one of the consultants, now retired, worked for one of the latter), one certainly cannot dismiss the famed glass ceiling for women in management as pure feminist agitprop: although this is less the case nowadays, there has been, and there still is, a tendency among some to take women less seriously in corporate environments, and this has inevitably impacted on promotions. (If executive women are sometimes unpleasant, masculine, and abrasive, it owes as much to the need to be heard and be taken seriously as it owes to feminism. This would be consistent with social identity theory, which predicts that in conflict situations competing groups will grow to resemble each other, even if ingroup members’ perceptions of the outgroup come increasingly to exaggerate ingroup-outgroup differences, real or perceived. In a male-dominated environment, women competing for resources, and equipped with an adversarial group identity by the feminists, will inevitably adopt male tactics and characteristics.)

Having said this, however, and with the caveat that mediocrity and incompetence abound all the way up and down the corporate ladder, irrespective of sex, there are also women who do not deserve to be taken seriously, who are hypersensitive, and / or who, found lacking in efficacy and / or industry, exploit equality legislation to obtain undeserved advantage. And, more importantly, there are also many women who do not dream of being ball-busting executives: indeed, many are content to have economic autonomy, while others would rather be at home looking after their families.

The underlying assumption with quotas is that (a) every person has the same potential to do a job as well as any other given the same opportunities; and (b) when a person who is not a member of a protected category is not successful with a job application it is always unjustified, unless another member of a protected category has been successful instead.

Mr. Cameron’s brand of feminism cannot accept that women may tend to order their priorities differently from men, and that his may have contributed proportionally to different outcomes vis-à-vis the corporate ladder. As usual, inequality of outcome is equated simplistically with inequality of opportunity.

Were it not because the imposition of quotas is a zero sum game, where every person who is favoured by the quota system is another person who is displaced in turn, I would be thinking that this is not about equalising outcomes, but about maximising tax revenues: after all, more women in senior executive positions means more women in the high income tax bracket.

What is certain is that any quota system will result in less qualified women displacing better qualified men. Definitely not in every case, as there are many very talented women out there and many incumbents who do not deserve to be where they are, but it will definitely happen. And where this happens, the quality of the decision making at boardroom level will be lower, which will impact negatively on the entire organisation, and even the consumer.

Any quota system will also impact negatively on women, as those attaining boardroom positions will fall immediately under suspicion of being there because of the quota system rather than because of professional merit. You can well imagine the rage and frustration of a genuinely deserving woman executive—one who probably had to strain to be taken seriously—in the presence of sceptical male colleagues who will now, in addition, have reason to see her as an affirmative action beneficiary, rather than a fully qualified partner. And, in addition to undermining this women’s authority at the boardroom level, quotas will also undermine their authority among those directly below them, for the better-qualified men who were passed over for promotion will certainly not take their new woman bosses seriously. Some men, demoralised, may engage in passive aggression and reduce their output, possibly going on strike by doing exactly no more and no less than what they are paid to do, interpreting instructions literally and keeping strictly to the 9 to 5 schedule, even, or especially, when there is a crisis. Some may take a page from Hermann Melville’s novella, Bartleby, the Scrivener, and practice outright passive resistance. Other men, infuriated, may work double-time actively to undermine their new woman bosses.

Aware of this, women executives, whether at boardroom level or on their way there, will certainly notice and act accordingly. Quotas are likely to exacerbate an antagonistic climate of competitive nastiness.

This will be far from helpful when organisations are already rife with all manner of intriguers, sycophants, back-stabbers, opportunists, hypocrisy, deception, bruised egos, pettiness, and personal hatreds; and where there are plenty of free-loaders, time-servers, gossips, and blunderers who rise purely because of their adeptness at blame transferring and gluteal osculation.

As usual, feminism, rather than reconciling the sexes in a spirit of teamwork, drives a wedge between them and sets them at war with each other. This is not how the alternative Right would approach matters of sex and gender: over here we view the sexes as complementary, each endowed with their own unique skills and ways of doing and seeing things, but ultimately working in concert. Feminism is all about us-versus-them; it is a force of destruction and revenge, not a constructive effort towards synergistic harmony between the sexes.

And there is also the matter of free association. Supposedly, we enjoy it in our democratic society. In reality, we are often denied it: millions of people we do not want around us are imported or allowed in, with government collusion or sanction, and settled in our communities, making them, the high streets, and the transport system, far more unpleasant than it needs to be. And now, as employers, should Mr. Cameron go ahead with Labour’s idea, and should less-qualified women be promoted over better-qualified men to meet minimum government quotas, we will have to suffer annoying, odious, incompetent partners and directors on the boards of our companies, holding positions of immense responsibility, being paid large sums of money, and causing more headaches than it is worth, rather than the persons we would have chosen on the basis of merit, talent, and personality.

And what next? Previous experience suggests this is to be thin end of a wedge, which will open the way for further, and even more unpleasant, impositions; more quotas, to ensure the full spectrum of colour, creed, gender, age, IQ, disability, HIV status, and sexual orientation is uniformly represented in every area of private and professional life, irrespective of relevance or merit, without the option to choose whom we would rather work or associate with. So much for meritocracy and free association.

Perhaps the response will be greater automation, and the dispensing with of humans whenever possible, for fear of whom one may be forced to work alongside with. Perhaps the response will be emigration: many companies, fed up with the previous Labour government’s predatory tax code, relocated their businesses out of the United Kingdom, in favour of more fiscally amenable pastures. Perhaps the response will be outward compliance, followed by subterfuges and workarounds—subtle psychological warfare to force resignation of affirmative action beneficiaries in hopes that another, better candidate will fill their positions. Or perhaps the response will be a call for more women in coalmines, construction, and oil drills.

Personally, I would prefer a system and a culture based on merit and teamwork, where men and women contribute with their own unique perspectives and approaches to action in the effort solve the different problems in life. Whatever the wrongs of the past, quotas is not the solution.

Well before Labour’s seizure of power in 1997, I knew Tony Blair and Gordon Brown would be trouble. Even my most pessimistic forecasts were eventually exceeded by the dynamic duo. And now, in the six months following 13 years of heavy-handed Labour government, with the nation groaning under the iron heel of that miserable party, it is clear that under David Cameron’s coalition we are in for yet more of the same.