Overview of poll results by Assoc Professor Andreas Leibbrandt

Government interventions to address labour market gender imbalances are often contentious. In a new working paper ("The Support for Gender Quotas in Hierarchical Relationships: Complementary Evidence from a Representative Survey and Labor Market Experiments" by Ip, Leibbrandt, Vecci), we show that in a representative sample 42% support gender quotas to increase female leadership in organisations, whereas 39% oppose such an intervention (only 20% are indifferent). Such low levels of agreement for gender quotas are common and point to the need to investigate the opposing opinions before their implementation.

The question asked of the panellists is significantly different: 

"Although there is growing awareness of the productivity gains of gender diversity, the private market alone is unlikely to steer the Australian labour market toward gender equality in male-dominated industries. Breaking down gender segregation in the labour market can only be achieved with some degree of government intervention." 

First, it does not specify the type and extent of government intervention (are we talking about simple nudges or mandated quotas?). Second, it does not ask for the level of support but only whether government interventions are needed to increase gender diversity. 

Given the generality of the proposition, some panellists noted difficulties in responding (Harry Bloch, Abigail Payne, Fabrizio Carmignani, Matthew Butlin, Gigi Foster), suggesting that the quantitative findings have to carefully interpreted.

In general, the panellists report to be pretty supportive of the statement. 82.1% agree (35.7% strongly), whereas only 10.7% disagree (3.6% strongly). In addition, the panellists report to be pretty confident about their responses (83.9% confidently agree or strongly agree). 

Interestingly, female panellists were much more likely to voice their opinion (11 out of 12 female members responded; 17 out of 41 male members responded) and their opinions tend to be more confident (5 out of 11 female members responded with '10' vs 1 out of 17 male members).

Several arguments in favour of government interventions were brought forward by the panellists. 

There is a very large consensus exemplified by Allan Fels’ comment "(We) have heard claims for many years that this does not require intervention as the private sector will take care of the problem. Not enough has happened and we now need intervention."

Similarly, Alison Booth mentions that the public sector has failed less in relation to gender equity than the private sector, suggesting it is qualified to intervene. And Peter Abelson suggests, that "Government might have to start by nudging itself."

However, while there is overall clear support for government interventions to increase gender diversity, there seems to be less agreement about type and level of government intervention. 

Abigail Payne, for instance, agrees that the government can assist. But, she is critical about the government playing a heavy hand. Several panellists view the role of government intervention primarily in the area of education (Julie Toth, Joaquin Vespignani), others in the area of parental leave conditions (Gigi Foster, Uwe Dulleck).

There are also some concerns about the undesirable impacts of government interventions to break down the gender segregation in the labour market. 

The concerns range from distractions of the meritocracy principle (Matthew Butlin) to the risk of 'very badly run organisations' (Brian Dollery). 

There is some hope that government interventions can alleviate challenging workplace environments for women in male-dominated industries (Margaret Nowak). However, it is also possible that government interventions deteriorate workplace environments (see e.g. “Gender Quotas, Competitions, and Peer Review: Experimental Evidence on the Backlash Against Women”, by Leibbrandt, Wang, Foo; forthcoming in Management Science). 

Other panellists are less concerned about productivity losses and mention the importance of gender equity, fairness concerns, and additional 'desirable' impacts ("(…) it’s a matter of societal preference who we want to see at the top", Paul Frijters).

In sum, a large majority of the panellists – female and male members – feel that some type of government intervention should be place to disrupt the male monoculture. There is agreement that interventions should allow for some flexibility and not be too heavy handed; e.g., they might come in the form of subsidising initiatives (Alison Booth), or in form of a significant push (Lata Gangadharan suggested a temporary quota). However, perhaps there is even clear support for significant interventions such as mandated quotas in certain environments. 

In our survey on gender quotas for leadership positions (Ip, Leibbrandt, Vecci above), we find that the support almost doubles to 73% if they are implemented in environments where individuals believe that there is a bias against females in the selection process.

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