In Support of the Davos Quota

Quotas are a contentious topics in many places, certainly in the U.S. Is a quota the first place you go when you want to advance women? No. But when change in proving intractable, put a quota on the table.

Good on you, organizers at Davos, for creating that requirement. What the Davos requirement quite rightly recognizes is that attending Davos is a source of power–through the halo, through the networking, through the knowledge acquired. They are trying to make sure that a few women get some of their stardust. They are also recognizing our human tendency to give the backstage passes to the really cool events to people we like to hang out with. When the top is all guys, they share them with guys. It’s really tough for women to even gain admission. That’s what Davos is trying to do–get them in the door.


To Americans, quotas sound intrusive. Another example of government (in the case of national quotas) or management (in the case of company quotas) overreaching its proper boundaries. Of course, any broad policy has its dangers–but so, too, does failure to make change. When we consider the stakes for our national competitiveness as well as our corporate competitiveness, we have to be open-minded about every possible mechanism, and view well-administered quotas that combine with appropriate developmental supports not as a “boogie man” but as another tool in our change toolkit that makes sense at times in the right places.

Why do I mention competitiveness? We need to boost innovation if we are to succeed. Companies are more innovative and make more money when they have a better mix of men and women at the top. Full stop. Anybody who hasn’t been living in a cave knows this. The global female economy is $19 trillion dollars–bigger than the economies of India and China combined. As American companies, we must tap into this with the right products and services, not with a Pepto-Pink Della computer.

Many boards and CEOs truly get this but the requisite strong will for change and the internal change processes are missing. Why? Internally, it’s politically very difficult to make this change happen. The record is pretty clear on this. Because it is so hard to get started, even well-intentioned change agents in high places lack solid and comprehensive change plans around succession planning, talent management processes, and properly redefining who can be a leader–the kinds of organizational supports that can develop really strong women leaders over the course of their careers. So they go nowhere.

A quota gives change agents within companies–even CEOs–a big stick to force an internal change that they already want to have happen but that needs help succeeding. A quota is a goal. We are much more successful when we have goals than when we don’t.