Mandatory Diversity Targets and Concerns About Unqualified Candidates

by Julie Graber | on 23 Jun 2020

It’s time to put an end to the qualifications conversation once and for all. 

I recently shared a link to an article about ex-Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, who says she's changing her thinking on diversity targets. Companies should ‘improve representation for women and for Blacks’ or be forced to meet requirements,” said Burns, adding that "we are at the last step of what I call ‘voluntary compliance.'" 

Among the comments I received were the typical concerns that of mandatory targets could lead to the appointment of unqualified candidates.

I firmly believe that everyone who brings up this issue thinks they are doing so with the best of intentions. But what they don't realize is that these concerns can come from a place of privilege where qualifications are assumed, and where the power to question the adequacy of others is embedded. That they come up when we talk specifically about women and people of color, means they are also sexist and racist.

Everyone should understand by now: no one is suggesting that mandatory targets be used to select candidates based on race or gender alone. Instead, mandatory targets would cause organizations to take a better look at all of the women and people of color who should be considered for board and senior executive positions but who aren’t being given a fair chance because they don’t fit the norm, they aren’t part of the network, they don’t have the inside track, they don’t have a sponsor championing their name - because bottom line, they aren’t white men. (If you want to question someone’s qualifications, let’s talk about all the current board members who have gotten their seat at the table because of their gender and their race and have no business being there.)

Concerns about qualifications may seem reasonable but they are misleading and distracting. They are also unfounded because what the research tells us is that women and people of color who make it to boards or senior leadership roles are more qualified than their white male counterparts (links below). They have to be just to be considered. 

Mandatory targets are one of the few strategies that has proven to be effective in generating greater gender and racial diversity. We need to give these targets serious consideration as we sort out ways to create a more just and equal world at every level, including in the leadership of Corporate America. 

Also see:

  • The Upside of Ticking a Box (Article)
  • What About All Those Unqualified Men? (Article)

Related research: 

  • Contrary to fears, new women board members in CA have executive level experience and have advanced degrees (Article
  • Quotas aren't anathema to meritocracy: they increase competence levels by displacing mediocre men (Article)
  • Dysfunction in the Boardroom (includes profile of women directors) (Article)
  • Researchers found that male directors have a smaller set of unique skills when compared to the women and fewer academic credentials. (Article)
  • Racial and Gender Inequality in the Boardroom (Article)

Tags:  In the NewsSystemic Bias