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Unintended consequences

Sometimes, when you try to achieve something, you don’t just fail to do it, you actually achieve the opposite. News from the World Economic Forum (WEF):

Two years ago WEF introduced a quota system to encourage female participation, which demanded that its 100 most important (ie generous) partners send one woman to the annual meeting for every four men. And yet somehow, since then, the proportion of women has fallen from 17% in 2011 to 15% of the 2,500 delegates for this year. So much for that ploy.

When the quota was introduced, it did seem as though progress was being made. For a start, there were a few more sessions about “women as the way forward” featuring Indra Nooyi and Sheryl Sandberg and lots of glamorous events with the likes of Nobel prizewinner Lleymah Gbowee.

But it was a different matter for the companies themselves, who avoided the quota altogether by sending four rather than five delegates. That’s right – they would rather send fewer people to the top table than mix the all-male bias up a little. Add to that all the delegates who were exempt from the quota – businesses, universities, media outfits and charities who still haven’t achieved gender parity – and the fact that the proportion of women has actually fallen seems less surprising.

Sometimes minimums don’t get you where you want to go.