I don’t want to be a token woman – and I don’t know any other woman who does. But regardless of personal sensibilities, I don’t believe in affirmative action for women. Why? Well, let me outline my thoughts as follows:
1. Affirmative action leads to discrimination.
If we introduce affirmative action we’ll be reinforcing discrimination, just in the other direction. Women are favoritized for promotion, men are passed over, even if they are the better choice for the task at hand. We want equal opportunities, not a redistribution of discriminatory treatment.
What is more, the entire concept of affirmative action for women is negative, too, because, while men frequently perceive programs for the advancement of women as unfair towards them, very few women see such programs as a decisive advantage.
2. Affirmative action defines woman as just a gender.
A woman has more to offer than just the attributes assigned to her because of her gender, and confining a woman to these attributes alone is discriminatory and therefore defeats the object of the exercise.
Successful teams and effective leadership are not the result of resolving a gender issue – diversity and aptitude are what counts. We have to reach a point where we consistently award top jobs according to the capabilities required by the organization and not select teams out of homogenous comfort or because strings have been pulled. Because it’s a well-known fact that diverse teams perform better. That goes for the managing boards, and it applies to middle management, too.
3. Affirmative action won’t solve the problem.
I see a problem gradually emerging: The boundaries between work and leisure is eroding. There is not one CEO who I know, who doesn’t put 100 per cent of her whole energy, regardless of whether day or night, workday or holiday, into her job and I don’t see any change to this pattern on the horizon. On the contrary: Constant reachability is now taken for granted. That’s not healthy, nor is it compatible with any conventional family model. I can perfectly understand that many women – and many men, by the way, too – don’t want to, or can’t, neglect their private life. Affirmative action won’t help any of that. We need different structures in companies and in society at large and we need women and men who are prepared to bring about change.
The good news is that the younger generation are the winds of change in the world of work, because they see the balance of work and private life as a prerequisite. And I personally know of no one under 40 who trusts women less than they trust men. Maybe the younger generation will manage to do what has been overdue for a very long time: to achieve a general acceptance that in the end it is aptitude that matters, regardless of whether it comes in male or female form. And then we won’t have to talk about affirmative action anymore, just as we don’t discuss whether women should be allowed to vote in elections anymore.
Affirmative action – yes or no? Who benefits from affirmative action for women – or will we all lose out in the end? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the issue.