This piece was originally published in the Orange County Register on January 24, 2020.
In 2018, California became the first state in the U.S. to mandate that corporate boards of directors include women.
A new lawsuit from the Pacific Legal Foundation questions whether this law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by putting equal numbers over equal treatment.
Senate Bill 826 requires at least one woman to be on the board of publicly held companies in California by the end of 2019. By August 2021, at least two women must sit on boards with five members, and at least three women must sit on boards with six or more members. Companies that do not comply face fines of $100,000 for a first violation and $300,000 for a second or subsequent violation.
While these laws are typically passed with the best of intentions, they don’t always result in the best of outcomes.
Proponents of corporate board gender quotas argue that these provisions will create a trickle-down effect. The theory is that when more women are in senior level management, companies enact more female-friendly policies.
However, statistics show gender quotas actually have very little impact.
Since Norway enacted its own boardroom quota in 2008, only 7 percent of the largest covered firms have female bosses more than 10 years later. According to The Economist, other European countries with quotas found similar results: “In France, Germany and the Netherlands just 10-20 percent of senior management jobs are held by women, a share that has barely budged in recent years.”
The truth is that women don’t need quotas to succeed. Data from the Pew Research Center shows that female leadership across government, Fortune 500s, and academia has been rising in the United States. The share of Fortune 500 companies in 2017 with female board members was 22.2 percent, compared to 9.6 percent in 1995.
Female decision-makers at the top of some of the U,S.’s biggest companies also see the flaws in quotas. In a 2016 interview with The Washington Post, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said about the Norway quota, “we can’t rely on quotas because they’re not moving the things which they’re not applied to.”
Other states besides California are now looking into passing their own versions of SB826, including Illinois, New York, and New Jersey, and some members of Congress have expressed interest in passing a federal law.
Anastasia Boden, senior attorney and lead on the case for Pacific Legal Foundation, argues, “This law is built on the condescending belief that women aren’t capable of getting into the boardroom unless the government opens the door for them. Women are capable of earning a spot on corporate boards without the government coercing businesses to hire them.”
Including women in the workplace is essential and provides great benefits to a business, but it should not be based on mandates and quotas.
Glossier CEO and gender equality advocate, Emily Weiss, also emphasized this principle in an interview: “Gender-balanced teams are more engaged, show increased customer satisfaction, and ultimately make more money. Men should think twice before joining a team with no female contributors, not because there’s a quota to meet, but because diversity in perspective helps everyone succeed.”
Women don’t need a special helping hand from the government to find success—they can succeed on their own merits and wit. Instead of allowing all individuals the equal opportunity to advance in the state, California has decided to put numbers over the equal dignity of women.
Krista Chavez is a Co-Chairwoman of the Network of enlightened Women’s Professional Network Washington, D.C. Chapter.