Workplace gender quotas weed out incompetent men and make businesses more efficient, study finds

The research counters one of the key arguments often put forward against the introduction of minimum quotas to promote equality: that such targets are unmeritocratic

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The Independent Online

Gender quotas increase the competence of organisations by leading to the displacement of mediocre men, a new study has found.

The research counters one of the key arguments often put forward against the introduction of minimum quotas to promote equality in the workplace: that such targets are unmeritocratic.

While some claim targets for the inclusion of underrepresented groups lead to the promotion of individuals that do not deserve it, economists at the London School of Economics found that the reverse is true. Quotas can work to weed out incompetent men.

The LSE team studied a strict gender quota introduced by Sweden’s Social Democratic party for its candidates in 1993.

At the time, some men were more critical than others, the LSE researchers say. The quota became known colloquially as the “crisis of the mediocre man,” because incompetent men had the most to fear from an influx of women into politics.

The proportion of women elected increased by 10 percentage points, on average, but there were large differences between different municipalities.

Some were already close to being equal before the reforms, while others had been previously almost entirely put forward male candidates. 

The study found that the average competence of male politicians increased most in the places where the quota had a larger impact. The findings can also be applied to workplaces, the researchers said.

On average, a 10 percentage point increase in female representation raised the proportion of competent men by 3 percentage points. The researchers observed little discernible effect on the competence of women.

Competence was measured by comparing the private incomes across people with the same education, occupation, age, and residence in the same geographical region. Those with higher incomes were deemed more competent.

Beyond the obvious point that the quota gave fewer positions to men, quotas can have strategic effects on political selection, the researchers said. 

“Mediocre leaders have a strong incentive to surround themselves with mediocre followers, so as to bolster their chances of remaining in power.” Quotas, they say, create a threat to such “cozy arrangements”.  

“Our main finding is that gender quotas increase the competence of the political class in general, and among men in particular. Moreover, quotas are indeed bad news for mediocre male leaders who tend to be forced out,” the researchers said.

The recent UK general election delivered the most diverse House of Commons ever with increases in the number of women, LGBT and ethnic minority MPs elected. 

However, the country still has a long way to go to meet the standards of the most equal countries. The latest analysis from the World Economic Forum puts Iceland as the best nation in the world for gender equality. Iceland has pledged to end the gender pay gap by 2022. 

Other Nordic countries, Finland, Norway and Sweden take up the next three positions on the list. The UK comes in at 20th on the list.