It’s Not About Women, It’s About Networks

In the European Commission there has been talk of pushing companies in Europe to use quota for women in order to increase the number of women in top management positions.

What a stupid idea!

Of course, I didn’t expect anything better from an institute stifled by top-down bureaucracy. (I know what I’m talking about. I’m only one handshake away from them.) But what kind of thinking can we expect from a “team” of 26 people, 6 of whom are called “vice-presidents”.

What’s next, I wonder?

More quotas?

Will they suggest quotas for colored people in board rooms? Quotas for gays and lesbians? Quotas for Muslims and Hindus? Why not demand that every organization is managed by a statistically random group of people, properly representing the generic population?

Why does the EU not suggest quota for male teachers at kindergartens? Or quota for free-market thinkers at cultural institutes? Or quota for fashionistas in healthcare? If government thinks diversity is a concern, why not start with organizations heavily subsidized by government?

Top managers are usually linear thinkers, not systems thinkers. Actually, the system (in this case the European Commission) breeds managers with linear thinking. And that’s the reason why there are so few women in board rooms. Because our masculine side does the linear thinking (or “boxes”). Our feminine side can better cope with the non-linear thinking (or “wires”).

Networks, not Hierarchies

Hierarchical systems stimulate “masculine” attributes, such as authority, aggressiveness, competition, and discipline. But many “feminine” traits, such as sensitivity, sociality, cohesion, nurturing, are more effective in networks than in hierarchies.

Incentivizing organizations to push women upward in the hierarchy is a perfect example of “doing the wrong thing righter” (Russell Ackoff, a systems thinker). The more sensible thing would be to incentivize organizations to break down the hierarchy and embrace the network, so that our feminine sides become as least as important as our masculine sides, and the boxes get entangled by the wires.

There is only one quota I could agree with: there should be a target for the number of systems thinkers among European Commissioners, and other top managers. It should be at least 50%.

(photo: Rock Cohen)


Related Posts
free book
“How to Change the World”
  • David Robison

    Looks like we have the same problems here in America. Good post!

  • Paul Dolman-Darrall

    There is much to agree with in this article, other than its the networks (what we call old boy networks) that prevent women getting into position of power in the first place.
    People don’t climb the hierarchy, the network puts them at the top in the first place.
    The conclusion does not stand up to what really happens. It is indeed the cohesion and sociality that leads to this in the first place.

  • Leyton

    Seems what the EC is doing is called the old smoke and mirrors trick. Those 26 are either too lazy or too inept to put any real effort into doing anything commensurate to their remuneration so they do what enables them to spend more self-indulgent time on trivial idioms rather than being the leaders they are paid to be.
    And we enable them. While the public and the media spend inordinate amounts of effort arguing the ridiculousness of a recycled idea it’s time not spent challenging those 26 to actually earn their keep. I hope everyone who follows already knows; leadership is based on what is between our ears, not out legs.

  • David Zuccaro

    Fair point Paul, but exclusion from the “old boy” network also applies to men not in the “old boy” network, not just women.

  • FanCircuit

    “A broader undertaking concerns the development of similar exploratory approaches that can also systematically account for network dynamics, which remains widely unexplored.”

  • dictadicit

    Well, reads like a hen-and-egg problem.
    Your argument is that if you break down the hierarchies, women will emerge.
    MY argument is that if you help women, it will help break down the hierarchies.
    And I argue that a quota for women is much easier to achieve than some unspecified “network instead of hierarchy” pledge, because the first is actionable and measurable.
    But basically, I agree that the quota is all smoke screen. What women really need is child care options and respect for their managerial skills. This alone would increase participation. Without taking care of the practical side, all quota won’t help.

  • Paul Dolman-Darrall

    True, but its mainly men, and its definitely a network (not a hierarchy)

  • Roberto

    Hi Jurgen, I’ve quoted your post as a comment of this
    (does crossing blog post make a network?)

How to Change the World - free Workout - free