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GENDER DIVERSITY & QUOTA IN BELGIAN COMPANIES

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"NO COUNTRY CAN EVER TRULY FLOURISH IF IT STIFLES THE POTENTIAL OF ITS WOMEN AND DEPRIVES ITSELF

OF THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF HALF OF ITS CITIZENS."

- MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES (2014, JULY 30)

 

 

At a global level, we can conclude that the numbers of men and women are roughly equal, with the male

population being slightly larger than the female population (United Nations, 2017). And although up until

1974 women weren’t even allowed to own a credit card under their own name, the buying power of women

these days has increased dramatically to a spectacular $20 trillion in annual consumer spending (Gilhool,

2013). But that is not the only dramatic change women have gone through. According to Gilhool (2013),

“women are graduating with degrees at every level of higher education at an increasing rate, outpacing

men”.

 

Although women clearly have made progress on the social level, they still continue to find themselves

undervalued in the workplace, especially when it comes to leadership roles. Even in a well-developed

country like Belgium, this imbalance still exists: in 2017, only 5.9 percent of large publicly listed companies

had a female CEO and only 13.4 percent of all executives and 33.5 percent of non-executives were female

(EIGE, 2018). In OECD countries where women make up 40-50 percent of the labour force, they account for

less than 8 percent of top managers. Worldwide, this share is even lower (OECD, 2008). Why is it that

women make up for almost half the population, yet are so little involved in the decision-making? One

particular option to solve this inequality is a gender quota.

According to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE, n.d.), a gender quota is “a positive

measurement instrument aimed at accelerating the achievement of gender-balanced participation and

representation. It establishes a defined proportion (percentage) or number of places or seats to be filled

by, or allocated to, women and/or men, generally under certain rules or criteria. Quotas can be applied in

order to correct a previous gender imbalance in different areas and at different levels, including in political

assemblies, decision-making positions in public, political life and economic life (corporate boards), as well

as to ensure the inclusion of women and their participation in international bodies, or as a tool to promote

equal access to training opportunities or jobs.”

The debate about gender quotas as a tool for increasing the gender diversity in corporate boards, has been

tempered now that more and more countries are getting involved. Even some countries that currently do

not have a gender quota in place, have officially stated that gender diversity is positive for the firm in

general. For example, the Lord Davies report (Lord Davies, 2011) from the UK says that “inclusive and

diverse boards are more likely to be effective boards, better able to understand their customers and

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stakeholders and to benefit from fresh perspectives, new ideas, vigorous challenge and broad experience.

This in turn leads to better decision making.” This trend is not only seen in European countries, but across

the globe: upcoming economies like India, China and even some countries in the Middle-East (for example

Tunisia and Jordan) are starting to acknowledge the importance of gender diversity in the board of

directors.

Most studies that have dealt with gender diversity in boards have used publicly available information, were

of a quantitative nature (Seierstad & Opsahl, 2011; Wang & Kelan, 2013) and have largely focused on

corporate financial performance (Bøhren & Staubo, 2014). The main question that will be investigated in

this study, is the following: To what extent does society steer companies into complying with gender quota?

This is done by examining what (future) employees think of the mandatory gender quotas and other nonlegislative

instruments that try to improve the gender diversity in decision-making processes. Does the

opinion differ between males and females? Which arguments are often used in this debate? Does a clear

diversity policy have an impact on the reputation of the companies? This study answers to the call of

Seierstad (2016) to consider broader international analyses, instead of focusing only on Norway: according

to her, follow-up studies should also investigate the wider effect of using quotas by looking at societal

implications.

First, the theoretical framework is explained, by looking at both the academic literature and the legislation

in Belgium. Chapter 2 gives an overview of the existing academic literature and deals with following topics:

the impact of gender diversity policies on organisational attractiveness, the (dis)advantages of using a

gender quota to increase gender diversity, the impact of Norway’s gender quota in the board of directors

and the effect of gender diversity and gender quota on the performance of that company. Chapter 3 gives

a brief summary of the current situation in Belgium concerning the gender equality on multiple dimensions,

from economic decision-making to health and survival, with the use of the results from the Gender Gap

Report of the World Economic Forum. The evolution that Belgian companies have made in their boards of

directors after the implementation of the gender quota, is also discussed. This is the result of the legislation

surrounding gender diversity together with other non-legislative instruments.

The second part of the thesis deals with the research that has been conducted through a questionnaire for

both students and working people in Flanders. Chapter 4 explains the methodology of this study by

integrating the sample design, the data collection method, details of the questionnaire and how the data

cleaning was executed. In chapter 5, the reader can go through the main results of the study. These results

were also compared with experiences of experts on this topic. The discussion, limitations, conclusion and 
recommendations can also be found in this chapter.

 

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GENDER DIVERSITY & QUOTA IN BELGIAN COMPANIES