How would you like a guaranteed job? If you live in Norway, you just might get one. Does that sound good to you? Here’s what you would get. A full 40% of board members at major Norwegian companies are women because by law they have to be. Is that good news for women in business? I don’t think so.
I’m not na?ve. I know the numbers are low in the states for the number of women board members. Today, 15% of board members at top companies in the United States are women. It’s even worse in Europe. It’s 9.7% there. I still wouldn’t want a guaranteed job for women.
There are a couple of reasons. Any time a slot is guaranteed for a group of people without any consideration of individual performance you cheapen the job. Think about it. It’s just like social promotions in schools. That’s when kids move through school despite their inability to read or do mathematics.
They’re simply too big physically to stay in the grade they should and learn the material. What happens? They get promoted. When you promote someone just because they physically didn’t fit the grade any more, you minimize the true accomplishments of those people who earn their grades. Getting something because of how you look is wrong.
I’ve worked for companies where the job went to a person just because of how the candidate looked. I’ve heard what gets said afterward in the office grapevine. It’s not pretty. Instead of hearty congratulations to the person, you get tepid resignation from some people. It’s disruptive and divisive to organizations.
Should all attempts at diversity stop? I don’t think so. But, instead of focusing on the top of an organization, I would focus on the bottom. I would be looking to give many opportunities to more diverse candidates. The only way to have more women at the top is if they have the same types of experiences that men get along the way as they climb the corporate ladder.
If you want women on boards, you had better start working on giving opportunities to enough women at much lower levels as they’re going through the ranks. That means having women get more finance, sales, and operations experience. Human Resources isn’t as critical as you see many women there now.
I’m a firm believer in getting other people to help you so you can get ahead. You have to create your own career with mentors, plans and goals. But, if the end result is mandated, then it takes away the hard work that’s needed for women to get ahead. It gets worse, too. What really scares me is if the women get the job, but they’re unprepared for it and then fail. That’s much worse for other women who follow them.
There are places in business for guarantees. A good one is when George A. Zimmer, the CEO of Men’s Wearhouse Inc., the mens’s clothing store chain says, “You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it.” Sorry ladies, but there’s no place for guaranteed jobs for women in business. In business, I can do the work myself and so can you. The only thing that a guaranteed slot for women in business will do is to make other people angry. Now that’s would be a terrible guarantee.