Mai Chen on quotas

June 8th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

writes in the Herald:

When I went to Harvard Law School 25 years ago, I studied discrimination and affirmative action with a black law professor whose research showed that legislated quotas often become a ceiling as well as a floor beneath a certain number of “diverse” workers.

Absolutely.

Also, legislated quotas can cast a cloud of suspected incompetency over every member of the groups that are the subject of affirmative action. A professor remarked to me when I got into Harvard, “I hear they were looking for women’, to which I responded, “No, I topped the law class.”

Heh.

Fresh thinking often comes from people who are different. I also think being underestimated often provides the motivation to be the best. And all employers know that the winning combination for employees is talent, hard work and motivation to win.

I think the breakthrough for women and minorities will come when people study the research and find that pays dividends. Indirect discrimination and culture is intangible, but money is not.

Very true. There is research showing companies with one or more female directors do better than those with none.

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17 Responses to “Mai Chen on quotas”

  1. hj (7,023 comments) says:

    Mai Chen comes across as a sensible person. She has also been warning against some of the out of the ordinary legislation being considered such as Wai 2 Treaty claims.

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  2. East Wellington Superhero (1,151 comments) says:

    “There is research showing companies with one or more female directors do better than those with none.”

    I’m not sure if the evidence is that clear.

    Here’s a McKinsey & Co article from a few months ago on a recent decent sized study:

    “To understand whether reality is consistent with theory, we looked at the executive board composition,1 returns on equity (ROE), and margins on earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) of 180 publicly traded companies in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States over the period from 2008 to 2010. To score a company’s diversity, we focused on two groups that can be measured objectively from company data: women and foreign nationals on senior teams (the latter being a proxy for cultural diversity).

    Diversity and performance
    The findings were startlingly consistent: for companies ranking in the top quartile of executive-board diversity, ROEs were 53 percent higher, on average, than they were for those in the bottom quartile. At the same time, EBIT margins at the most diverse companies were 14 percent higher, on average, than those of the least diverse companies (exhibit). The results were similar across all but one of the countries we studied; an exception was ROE performance in France; but even there, EBIT was 50 percent higher for diverse companies.”

    HOWEVER, they had this caveat in this study:

    “We acknowledge that these findings, though consistent, aren’t proof of a direct relationship between diversity and financial success. At highperforming companies, the board or CEO may simply have greater latitude to pursue diversity initiatives, and other management innovations may contribute more directly to superior results. We will continue to explore these issues in further research.”

    So then what? Was McKinsey& Co’s article just a bunch of wank to look good in front of its clients.

    Of course DPF and McK & Co are going say ‘diversity is cool’. It’s pretty Un-PC not to say that.

    Mai Chen is right, forcing quotes is bad for women.

    As I would also suggest blindly following diversity for apparent ‘commercial reasons’ is too.

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  3. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    In general hiring the best person for the job is good for your corporate results. The assessment of best person includes their direct measured performance, but also some more intangibles – how they blend with the existing team. Depending on the business and industry, it doesn’t follow that just hiring more women helps, but it does seem reasonably intuitive that having a board with different perspectives may lead to more innovation, more likelihood of someone coming up with left field ideas, and more likelihood of different people on the board looking at different bits of the business.

    So the same way I wouldn’t want a board packed with lawyers and no accountants, I’d also probably not like a board that only had middle aged white men from Auckland. There are a lot of different sorts of diversity – so putting a couple of women on your board isn’t necessarily the answer. If they’re middle aged white women from Auckland you may be no better off, and maybe a farmer from Otago would be more useful (male or female), or maybe someone from Taiwan if that’s one of your key target markets.

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  4. kowtow (8,487 comments) says:

    This whole equality,diversity ,human rights,minority, victim status thing makes mad as all hell.

    If you combine “women and minorities” as per above they become a majority in society. As a new minority created by the combination of the old victim minorities, white males must now be legislatively protected. Goose gander.FFS.

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  5. Kea (12,841 comments) says:

    Minorities is code for Non-White. I often hear Asians referred to as a “minority”. In fact they are the most populous people in the world. There are many other examples I could use. We see the same abuse of language when we hear of “ethnic” or “indigenous” peoples. None of those terms refer to race.

    I agree with Mai Chen. If you believe that people are your true equall, then you will believe all they need, to prosper, is equall opportunity.

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  6. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    “Also, legislated quotas can cast a cloud of suspected incompetency over every member of the groups that are the subject of affirmative action. A professor remarked to me when I got into Harvard, “I hear they were looking for women’, to which I responded, “No, I topped the law class.””

    Oh, cry me a fucking river.

    (1) Note how Mai attributes the comment to “a professor”, thus nicely smearing all those who taught her at Otago, whilst making the story essentially unverifiable.

    (2) Note how Mai claims that a professor here in New Zealand claimed some special insight into the selection policy being followed by Harvard Law School, a private institution in another country that tells other universities nothing about how it decides who it wants in its classes.

    (3) Note Mai’s response – “I topped the law class.” Well, there’s a board in the main office at the Otago Law Faculty listing all the recipients since 1974 of the Otago District Law Society Prizes … given to the two graduating students with the best overall grades over their entire law degree. Guess whose name isn’t on that list?

    Look, I’m sure Mai had to overcome her share of prejudice and fight harder for what she got than a white male would have had to, but any story she tells about her accomplishments and/or her personal experiences must be taken with a cellar full of salt.

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  7. Harriet (4,972 comments) says:

    Allegedly made by Lincoln ….“You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.”

    No publicly listed company could entertain the possability of an anti-meritocratic policy without being held accountable by shareholders.Feminists are kidding themselves if they think otherwise.

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  8. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    Harriet, there are many publicly listed companies that have anti-meritocratic policies. In the past many of those discriminated against women, these days many discriminate against men. The shareholders generally don’t know or don’t care.

    AG. I’d call it poetic license by Mai. She did get good marks, and I suspect people may have said to her “I heard they were looking for women” because the rumour mill does run, true or not. I think the outlines are accurate – when you start having quotas, and letting less qualified women into the course, then when they graduate the question is asked “is my lawyer here because they’re a good lawyer, or because they’re a woman.”

    Ironically enough, quotas in law, if implemented, would presumably be used to make sure there were enough male lawyers. Female graduates are up around 60% at the moment aren’t they?

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  9. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    PaulL,

    I’d call it a story that most likely never happened, but makes for a nice personalised anecdote to hammer home the point she wishes to make (whilst, once again, reminding the reader that SHE WENT TO HARVARD!!!!!!!) As for “a rumour mill” in New Zealand about what Harvard Law School is looking for in any given year … no. There is no such thing. So either the professor was being a complete prick and seeking to undermine Mai’s success with no basis in fact or rumour (again, note we have no name to judge how likely this is), or it just didn’t happen

    And yeah – the student body at NZ law schools at the moment are highly skewed towards women (as they have been for at least a decade). Not that this has had all that much impact on the makeup of the profession beyond the lowest levels, but.

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  10. Harriet (4,972 comments) says:

    Paul L#

    Air NZ said last year that they were ‘looking for a CFO who is a women but couldn’t get one’ – my opinion at the time was that ‘Air NZ needed an accountant like a sick person needed a doctor’.[No one goes looking for a women doctor unless they are ignorant, as ALL old women were once upon a time ALWAYS seen by a male doctor.And it never did them any harm - bar the criminal type.]

    I wouldn’t buy Air NZ shares when they make idiotic statements like that – and that IS BEING held accountable by shareholders -or in the real sense- the market.

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  11. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    Harriet: only if enough other people do as you do. One of my female friends always looks for a male doctor – they know that they don’t empathise with their problems, but they’d rather have a doctor who doesn’t understand than one who understands and doesn’t care. :-)

    AG

    And yeah – the student body at NZ law schools at the moment are highly skewed towards women (as they have been for at least a decade). Not that this has had all that much impact on the makeup of the profession beyond the lowest levels, but.

    And there is the rub. If we measure success by opportunity and lack of discrimination, we’re largely there. Sure, there are still cases of discrimination (in both directions), and they should be addressed. But in general terms in most professions in most western countries women have the same opportunity as men. But the numbers haven’t balanced out in senior management. Some of this is timing, but it’s been a few years.

    My personal view is that this won’t change without a cultural change. And not in the sense that some people might interpret. Basically women currently are free to choose the same path as men – you can choose to work hard, not see your children much, do what is asked of you and climb the corporate ladder. Or you can choose not to. For a bunch of cultural reasons it’s not very acceptable for a man to decide to just not climb the corporate ladder. None of my friend say “I’m sick of this, it’s a crap lifestyle, I’m going to go part-time / depower / get an easier job.” But, again for cultural reasons, it’s perfectly acceptable for women to do exactly that. And the question is, who’s the mug here? If we removed all the cultural artefacts, would we find more women working the long hours, or would we find more men refusing to do so?

    Bottom line, I think that the problem here is one of desire (defining that how ever you want). Women are perfectly capable of holding these roles, but many of them don’t want to make the tradeoffs that it would imply. Attempting to run positive discrimination to fix this is doomed to fail.

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  12. Tom Jackson (2,553 comments) says:

    I agree with Mai Chen. If you believe that people are your true equall, then you will believe all they need, to prosper, is equal opportunity.

    It always makes me cringe when people say this, because they do not realise what we would require to provide genuine equality of opportunity.

    The concept of equality of opportunity is that it would be achieved when persons of equal ability and desire for something have exactly the same chance of obtaining it. That means that every single factor other than ability or desire that is relevant to determining a person’s chances of obtaining a good has to be corrected for. The sheer scale of change required is staggering. This would require the elimination of all unearned educational advantages (which means goodbye to private schools, private tutoring and likely compulsory busing); making sure that all children are equally fed and housed insofar as this makes a difference; providing the same quality of teachers to all students of equal ability; eliminating all social networking effects on who gets what job; ditto for cultural differences that engender a “work ethic”; eliminating any attempt by parents to give their children an educational advantage; and so on… If we don’t do this, then opportunities aren’t going to be anywhere near equal, and in fact they are not.

    In short, if you want anything approaching genuine equality of opportunity, you require a society that is vastly more egalitarian in terms of wealth than any society that has heretofore existed on the planet.

    Conservatives who support equality of opportunity would not do so if they understood what it really required.

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  13. Johnboy (16,597 comments) says:

    “Very true. There is research showing companies with one or more female directors do better than those with none.”

    Helen had some business nous.

    All the brothels set up under her watch, that empowered women as directors of their own destiny, are all doing rather well apparently! :)

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  14. cows4me (248 comments) says:

    Perhaps Mai Chen could stop off and have a quite chat with the Melons. They are all for speacial Maori seats and at the same time are creating a floor and a ceiling for the very people they wish to premote. How can one strive to better ones self when it’s handed out on a platter.

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  15. AzaleaB (2 comments) says:

    Personally I am against affirmative action but recognise NZ still has some issues to address. As a working woman in management consulting I would say 95% of the time my gender is a ‘non-event’ and it is all about results. I have had a few surprising moments however where my male counterparts had crawled out of some 1950’s cave. One was in one of NZ largest companies…I had just given a one hour presentation/discussion to all male executive team. I was informed I “did well” because I was invited to “have drinks with the boys” in the CEO’s office…and “few women in our business get the invite”. They all dutifully drank spirits where I opted for tonic water because of a headache after speaking for an hour (tension etc). One Executive said to me ” this will be the last time you are invited into X’s office” to which I asked “why?” and his response was “you didn’t make an effort to fit in” or words to that effect. I took this as meaning I did not opt for the single malt…and he was right, I never got a repeat invite.

    Another time I went for a senior manager role and was interviewed by another CEO ( who btw is fairly tight with this Govt). The feedback I received was that I was not quite right for the role but “you are quite attractive and the CEO wonders if you would consider becoming his EA”. I politely declined and said that I saw my career going in a different direction”. I now have two companies of my own.

    The answer is more an open mind and education for both genders – a focus on performance and results. Women need to not look for an excuse for being overlooked and men need to look at performance, not gender( or looks). The latter may be the challenge:)

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  16. F E Smith (3,305 comments) says:

    PaulL,

    65%, actually, although I have heard of one law school where it is allegedly 70%.

    The last two years admissions to as barristers and solicitors have been, I understand, 65% female.

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  17. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    AzaleaB: the consulting gig is a hard one, and many people have weird attitudes. As a male in my consulting career I’ve:
    – had colleagues suggest that I do a particular client meeting because the (female) client is known for liking “a bit of eye candy”
    – had a client who (despite being married) was known for touching male staff, but not female staff. Not in an overtly sexual way, but noticeable that it was only male staff. One night at an offsite with drinks I got the full cuddle from behind whilst waiting for drinks at the bar. This was considered by all my colleagues to be hilarious, nobody ever even suggested that maybe something should be done. If I had been female I reckon he probably would have been fired, but failing that, I definitely would have gotten some sort of discussions and support, not mockery.

    I’m in the IT business, there are a number of vendors that I work with who have female sales staff who openly play on their looks. One in particular was known for always getting sales meetings largely due to the fact she always displayed a lot of cleavage.

    The reality is that it takes all types. People say stupid things, some people are stupid. It happens to both genders, it still happens to women a bit more than to men, but it’s rapidly catching up. It’s part of working with people that some of them turn out to be idiots, and even some of the ones you like have some behaviours that are inappropriate. If people spend their lives worrying about that they’ll never get anything done. In my experience it generally doesn’t hold people back any more, at least in most companies. There aren’t many organisations that actively or passively fail to promote women, and there are a lot of organisations that actively overlook men and promote less well qualified women.

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