Women’s Leadership Conference: What’s the Effect of Quotas or Targets?

Topics: Corporate Legal, Diversity, Law Firms, Leadership, Talent Development, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts

diversity & inclusion

NEW YORK — At Thomson Reuters’ recent 3rd Annual Women’s Transformative Leadership Forum, several of the women panelists engaged in a lively discussion around how, beyond networking, regulatory requirements to even consider women or certain designated categories of people for positions can result in more diversity.

Alexandra Holt, Budget Director for Chicago’s Office of Budget and Management, noted that diversity efforts and quotas can have “an enormous value in just in-putting transparency into how hiring decisions are made.” Because the City of Chicago is subject to two annual public discussions on the diversity of their teams, hiring decisions are approached quite differently than in private practice.

Suzanne Rich Folsom, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer at U.S. Steel, said that while throughout her career, she has never sought out or advocated for quotas for herself or anyone else, she has definitely observed more women serving on corporate boards in Europe since many European countries began adopting legislation to promote gender-balanced representation on corporate boards. Folsom recalled a story from her career where her network pushed to get her name on the short list for a European corporate board; and she wondered if the company would have specifically been looking for a woman absent those regulations.


A sign posted at the recent 3rd Annual Women’s Transformative Leadership Forum.

Such requirements may be motivating corporations to look beyond their own circles of comfort and seek out talented women, she remarked, adding that while the requirements may have gotten women’s names put into consideration, at the end of the day each one of the women she knew who had been appointed was selected for their own qualifications and skills.

Event Co-Chair Bindu Dhaliwal, the Associate General Counsel at BMO Financial Group, agreed, noting that while Canada discusses these requirements differently as “targets”, clearly the women who are named to corporate boards are winning their positions on their own merits. “No one will risk putting someone unqualified on their own board,” Dhaliwal said.

Holt and Folsom expressed ongoing frustration with getting recruitment or search firms to bring forward slates of candidates featuring any women or people of color. Folsom noted that when her company specifically requested to see women attorneys with a labor background for corporate board positions, a recruitment firm brought forward of a slate of all male candidates — and not one had any labor experience.

Folsom at first hesitated to address the issue but ended up raising her hand to suggest a great candidate — a woman with extensive labor law experience. No one in the room objected to this and were actually happy to consider the candidate. That candidate ended up being selected, and now she is the first Latina and third female board member for the company. But the company never would have considered her at all had they stuck with the slate the recruiting firm had provided, Folsom said.

Holt echoed that frustration, describing her incredulity at a recent recruiting firm which told the city of municipal government that they could not find a woman, veteran or person of color in the entire city of Chicago to consider for a recent position.

The key to continuing these efforts beyond regulatory requirements is tracking the results of such programs, to help convince organizations of the value and benefit of such efforts and convince them to voluntarily expand diversity policies and programs, explained Dhaliwal.