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In 2002, Norway enacted a law requiring that 40 percent of all board members at state-owned and publicly listed companies be women by 2008.

Since then, Spain and the Netherlands have passed similar laws. Now Belgium, Britain, Germany, France and Sweden are considering legislative measures involving female quotas. And although Germany is also debating such a law, Deutsche Telekom, which is based in Bonn, announced last week that it would voluntarily introduce a quota aiming to fill 30 percent of upper and middle management jobs with women by the end of 2015.

Do quotas work? Would they work in the U.S.? Does the U.S. need them?

Marit Hoel, Center for Corporate Diversity, Oslo
Amy Dittmar, University of Michigan
Peter Baldwin, author, "The Narcissism of Minor Differences"
Linda Hirshman, author, "Get to Work"
Sharon Meers, former managing director at Goldman Sachs. Read full opinion below.

Throw Out Old Assumptions- Sharon Meers

Quotas are one way to allocate positions of power — but they come with a lot of risk and resentment. Instead, we should put good process in the place of bad assumptions.
Employers can do a much better job holding social myths in check in the workplace.

Weeding out sex-role attitudes and assumptions is difficult. And it’s especially hard to get started when many leaders don’t think that there’s a problem, that nothing needs to change, that the low presence of women at the top is natural — the result of female preferences, family roles and the demands of the 24/7 workplace.

But research paints a different picture: 80 percent of mothers who leave the work force would prefer to stay on the job; children do at least as well when mothers work outside the home and men are fully engaged parents; divorce risks drops 50 percent when women and men more evenly share earnings and housework.

Unfortunately, popular chatter, from the boardroom to the PTA, does not reflect these facts. We persist in our Mad Men belief that children and marriage benefit if mothers lower their sights and stop shooting for the top.

Employers can do a much better job holding social myths in check in the workplace. At one big company, senior managers met to identify the firm’s future leaders. Everyone agreed that a foreign posting was key. But as they went down the list of prospects, female names were quickly crossed out. “Oh, Anne won’t move. Her husband has a good job.” Then, “I don’t think Sarah would go to China, her kids are in grade school.” When it was about to happen a third time, a senior woman asked: “How about we call Anne and Sarah and let them tell us if they’d really never move?”

At the University of Michigan, with National Science Foundation backing, tenured male professors teach their peers about the data on implicit bias, the tendency we all have to choose John’s resume over Jane’s even when their credentials are identical. Michigan’s hiring committees, bathed in facts about how social attitudes blur vision, now have a more informed process. For the medical and science faculties, it has doubled the percentage of female hires form 15 percent to 30 percent.

Assumptions about work hours also limit women but new studies are starting to unravel them. Harvard Business Review recently published this finding from work at Boston Consulting Group: consultant teams that were forced to work fewer hours had measurably better client results. Better communication, clearer minds and a more disciplined process produced superior results. This supports what other research says: that working parents can excel at work and still eat dinner with their children.

A favorite male boss once joked with me “I’ve no idea how this dual-career thing works – someday, you’ll have to tell me.” His life was different from mine but he had a sense of humor and an open mind. When leaders are willing to educate themselves, to ask and not assume, women advance at the same rate as their male peers.

So how do we embolden more leaders to do the hard work and put good process in place? Let’s turn up the volume on what the studies say is true: That co-ed leadership is good for everyone and results in better profits and no talk of quotas.

For full article check out New York Times opinion blog re European quotas for women at the top - and a better choice for the US.

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