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)


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