Jordan Peterson’s appearance on the ABC’s leftist echo chamber, Q&A, was quite the ratings hit recently. But one of the more memorable contributions was made by Van Badham, the Guardian Australian columnist and Twitter warrior recruited to the Trades Hall Council cause by Cupid’s arrow – a claim, unfortunately no one really had the chance to question. That is her contention that the policy of affirmative action—and the subsequent implementation of gender quotas—produces better outcomes in both decision-making and productivity across all areas of society.
Now, it’s important to pay close attention to what Van says. What follows is a verbatim transcript from approximately the 48 to 49 minute mark:
For example, the empirical evidence which exists…there was a longitudinal study that was reported in the Harvard Business Review—hardly a repository of doctrinaire Marxism … there was a longitudinal study which looked at forty-years of affirmative action in the workplace. And the companies, organisations, governments, committees that did have a quota policy. And do you know what they found after forty years? Those organisations were in better shape. Companies with more diverse decision making structures actually made more money. Organisations that had more diverse decision making structures actually had higher productivity. Outcomes were better when more people were involved. And that is a matter of science!’
I was intrigued by how confident Van was of the so-called scientific consensus around this particular issue. Because over the years I’ve done a bit of reading on the subject, and from all the articles that I’ve read, the findings are by no means conclusive. But maybe I’d been looking in the wrong place?
So, I decided to search the database of the Harvard Business Review, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to locate the article in question. Instead, the closest thing that I could find was a thirty-year longitudinal reported in the Harvard Business Review which concluded against diversity quotas. As the article states:
Are all of these efforts working? In terms of increasing demographic diversity, the answer appears to be not really. The most commonly used diversity programs do little to increase representation of minorities and women. A longitudinal study of over 700 U.S. companies found that implementing diversity training programs has little positive effect and may even decrease representation of black women.
Most people assume that diversity policies make companies fairer for women and minorities, though the data suggest otherwise. Even when there is clear evidence of discrimination at a company, the presence of a diversity policy leads people to discount claims of unfair treatment. In previous research, we’ve found that this is especially true for members of dominant groups and those who tend to believe that the system is generally fair.
Now, I could have just missed the article in question. And so, I contacted Van directly—via Facebook messenger and also Twitter—that I might be able to cite this specific article for myself. But while I could see that Van had read my message, I still received no reply.
Undeterred, I contacted the ABC and submitted a formal request for a #FactCheck. But again, I heard nothing. All of which meant that I had to do some further the research myself. And this is what I found. Helen Raleigh, from The Federalist, reported:
Ten years ago, Norway, the progressive paradise, took a drastic step to address this gender gap at the top of corporations. Its Minister of Trade and Industry Ansgar Gabrielsen of the Conservative Party introduced a mandatory gender quota of 40 percent for the boards of all public limited companies. The passing of this draconian law means, “If a company breaks the gender quota rules in Norway, it will be denied registration as a business enterprise in the Brønnøysund Register Centre and be subject to forced dissolution by the courts.” Following Norway’s example, a dozen other European countries, including France, Germany and Italy, adopted similar gender quotas- — 30 to 40 percent of corporate boards must be made up of women.
What was the result? Well, the conclusion that Raleigh comes to is that is inconclusive. What’s more, just as in real life, the ‘devil is in the details’. As Raleigh explains:
Did the higher female representation on corporate boards improve corporate profitability and corporate governance as proponents promised? The data is inconclusive. Some companies saw improvement in both areas but some didn’t. Did the higher female representation on corporate boards improve board’s decision making as supporters claimed? Data shows that although decision-making processes might have changed, the substance of the decisions and the quality of decision didn’t improve by simply having more women on boards.
But there was something else that occurred in Norway when these totalitarian laws were introduced. And this is where things started to get really interesting:
Since the law in Norway only applies to public companies, some Norwegian companies became private. The number of public limited companies in Norway dropped from 452 in 2008 to only 257 in 2013. The number of board seats dropped from 2,366 in 2008 to 1,423 in 2013. So, there are fewer seats for women to fill.
But what everyone is most interested in answering is the question of whether the quota really benefited women. The answer depends on who you ask. The quota has certainly benefited a small group of women who are already high achievers and are at the top of corporate hierarchies. They are called the “golden skirts” and their numbers are very limited. Since the quota mandate led to a surge of demand for these women, many of them found more opportunities and higher pay, but they also found themselves stretched thin by serving on multiple boards.
As if that were not significant enough, Raleigh goes on to state:
As The Economist reported, the most puzzling information revealed by the data is that the quota mandate “had no discernible beneficial effect on women at lower levels of the corporate hierarchy.” Proponents of such a policy have long promised that more women in leadership positions would translate to more career opportunities and promotions for women in the lower levels, which in turn will lead to better paying jobs and a shrinking gender pay gap. But that promise turned out to be wishful thinking.
Data shows that in France, Germany and the Netherlands, which all mandate women taking 30 to 40 percent of corporate board seats, only 10 to 20 percent of senior management jobs (one level below the board of director position) are held by women and that number has been consistent for the last 10 years. The Norwegians own study shows eight years after Norway introduced the law on gender equality in boardrooms, there are zero female CEOs in the country’s 60 largest companies. There is no data to demonstrate any higher pay or more career advancing opportunities for the vast majority of women in the workforce. Thus, having more women on the board has done little to benefit 99 percent of women in the workforce. Rather, it failed to lure more women to climb the corporate ladder and it failed to open up more mid-career opportunities and better pay.
All of which brings Raleigh to make the following assessment:
The logical conclusion, as The Economist presented, is that “gender quotas at board level in Europe have done little to boost corporate performance or to help women lower down.” Like so many progressive policies, the mandatory quota benefits a very small elitist group at the expense of the masses, despite its slogans on “equality.”
Now, this forty-year longitudinal study from The Harvard Business Review might still yet appear. And Van, if you’re reading this, if you could make us aware of it, then that would be terrific! But for the moment, it seems that the so-called “consensus” which she so confidently asserted is not as conclusive as Van wants everyone to think. And that, Ms Badham, truly is science.
Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.
Illustration: Channel 7/You Tube.
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