Our society is currently undergoing a reform. In the past fifty years substantial effort has been exerted to encourage diversity and inclusion, not only in the workplace, but everywhere. And to an extent, its worked. Data from The Royal Society shows a 7% increase in the proportion of ethnic minorities in STEM degrees between 2007 – 2019 and leapfrogging of the proportion of women over men in both undergraduate and postgraduate STEM degrees. However, statistics like this don’t tell the whole story. The 7% increase traverses the proportion of ethnic minorities in STEM degrees to 27% and the seemingly revolutionary statistics showing more women are undertaking STEM degrees than men includes nursing as its most popular principal degree, with a clear dominance in female students. In reality, the world of STEM and the general workplace is still inherently unbalanced, prejudiced and encourages a ‘boys club’ clientele for the wealthy. We therefore ask, are the methods implemented to change this working?
In this piece, Maddie Lee (She/Her) and Harriet Sharp (She/Her) debate whether one of the largest modern implementations, the inclusion quota, is doing enough to tackle this issue, and whether there would be more effective, currently unused, methods.
Maddie Lee believes inclusion quotas are outdated and do not tackle the source of many prejudices.
Diversity improves workplaces. It brings in different ideas; makes working environments more inclusive; allows the workforce to better reflect the population (which is particularly important in public service). It also improves equality of opportunity for everyone. However, inclusion quotas – which require that a certain proportion of workers have a defined characteristic – may not ensure both an effective and diverse work environment.
For one thing, quotas are incredibly superficial and do not address the underlying issues that cause a lack of diversity. If more men apply to engineering jobs than women in the first place, then it’s no surprise that only 16.5% of engineers are women. Career choices have already been influenced upstream of the hiring process – by media, role models, and stereotypes, seen by children and young adults, and by educational opportunities. Quotas do not change this.
[Inclusion quotas] may make the hiring process more challenging and less successful
Quotas also do nothing to truly combat prejudice in hiring practices, such as unconscious bias. In 2009, it was found that people who had white sounding names had a 74% better chance of getting positive job application responses compared to those with ethnic sounding names. Diversity quotas may stop unconscious bias affecting hiring as much, but they don’t effectively address the issues. In fact, they may make the hiring process more challenging and less successful, as interviewers worry about picking the right person for the job whilst also improving diversity.
Alternative methods can be used to combat unconscious bias, and to generally make choosing the right applicant easier. Anonymised CVs are a fantastic reformation of hiring protocols as they eliminate clues to an individual’s age, race or gender. Furthermore, using work aptitude tests instead of interviews to determine one’s suitability for a job can eliminate prejudice based on educational or professional background and connections, and give a more accurate indication of who perform best at the job.
A boss could still be inherently racist, sexist, or homophobic, and a quota simply means more people will need to put up with that
Moreover, despite their primary purpose, inclusion quotas do not necessarily make workplace cultures more inclusive – a boss could still be inherently racist, sexist, or homophobic, and a quota simply means more people will need to put up with that. More active work to combat prejudice, such as mandatory awareness courses, could make deeper changes. Similarly, quotas do nothing to monitor the job retention, progression or pay of groups once people are hired. If there are any ways in which certain groups are not being adequately supported – such as through poor maternity practices or insufficient catering for disabilities – then individuals may not reach their potential once qualified. This underperformance could even reinforce prejudices about groups.
People can be unhappy knowing they have been employed to fulfil a quota, dreading to be seen as a ‘diversity hire’ and being reduced to their immutable characteristics. Quotas can make these individuals feel more alienated instead of included. They can also negatively influence the inclusion of another group (the number of women elected into politics has reduced the number of ethnic minority candidates elected).
Overall, despite being implemented to encourage total inclusion and opportunity, inclusion quotas have a cacophony of major flaws that render their use highly inefficient and ineffective. Hopefully, by focusing more on the intersectionality of different underrepresented groups, and by tackling prejudice at a deeper level, methods can be rethought to provide equal opportunity and leverage for success rightfully deserved by everyone.
Harriet Sharp (She/Her) argues that whilst inclusion quotas might not be perfect, they are the best form of encouraging inclusion at the moment.
In a diverse world, it makes sense for the places we work in to be diverse. Diversity gives room for different perspectives, an inclusive environment, and increased innovation. However, this is not often reflected in the workplace, especially in STEM. In London’s 100 most valuable companies, there are only 11 people of colour, 9 women, and no known LGBTQ or disabled CEOs. This is also shown in more junior roles, with various groups being continually underrepresented. I can see how easy it is for companies to keep hiring the same ‘type’ of person, as they follow a track record for being successful, but given the benefits of diversity in a workplace it only makes sense to hire a diverse group of people. Such lack of diversity not only inhibits the company itself but also reduces the chance of minority groups being motivated to try out for these jobs, as they don’t envisage themselves in them.
It is puzzling to see people’s backgrounds and identities counting as a percentage, which makes inclusion quotas seem almost clinical
One way to promote this is through inclusion quotas. When hiring or promoting, companies and/or governments should aim for a certain percentage of people from minority groups – such as age, gender, disability, ethnicity, LGBTQ+ and religion. As a woman, I think it’s nice to see companies trying to sort out the gender bias often seen in professional environments. Seeing more women in jobs I would like to do makes the dream seem more achievable. However, the feeling of ‘other’ does seem to be prevalent in discussions of inclusion quotas; breaking into a new field as a minority group can be daunting. Although quotas may promote feelings of ‘other’, the more diverse a workplace is, the more inclusive it will become and hopefully weaken these feelings. It is puzzling to see people’s backgrounds and identities counting as a percentage, which makes inclusion quotas seem almost clinical, but I think it is the push that we need to promote diversity, which will lead to higher-quality workplaces.
These inclusion quotas actually encourage people to push past their own personal biases
Another concern that is often voiced about inclusion quotas is that by focusing on inclusion, you will lose out on qualified employees and diminish the success of the role. In the UK, positive discrimination is illegal. For example, you can’t hire someone who is transgender if they are not as qualified as a cisgender person up for the same role. However, positive action is encouraged – so in a tie-breaker situation where two people were both as qualified as each other, it’s legal to hire candidates from an under-represented group under the Equality Act 2010. This means the fear of people ’stealing roles’ is entirely unfounded: these inclusion quotas actually encourage people to push past their own personal biases and hire the best person for the job.
Although it feels like a quick fix, it is something that has been proven to work. After implementing strict quotas, women in German politics went up by 16.7% from 1973 to 1996. Even if these percentages only resulted in short term diversity, a study found that this encouraged more women to enter politics, including non-elite women, and enabled more women to gain political skills. As politicians are supposed to represent the community, surely the politicians should be representative of the community itself – and if a quota was needed to motivate more women into politics, surely that is a good thing.
[Inclusion Quotas] should hopefully act as simply an aperture through which we can view an interconnected, diverse and inclusive work environment
Inclusion quotas are therefore a beneficial tool to ensure the workplace remains diverse. Although it may have its downsides and not be the most efficient way to tackle prejudice, it should hopefully act as simply an aperture through which we can view an interconnected, diverse and inclusive work environment. So, for the moment, yes, inclusion quotas are required; as without them, we risk slipping back to an age where equal opportunity and professional ambition was a dream dreamt by those who lacked a platform to prove their true worth.