H(a)unting Quotas: An Empirical Analysis of the Uncanniness of Gender Quotas

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Abstract

Despite years of gender equality research and initiatives, women are still highly underrepresented in top management positions. In Denmark, the number of female top managers is particularly low, despite Denmark’s public image of being a country of equal opportunities. In several European countries, quota systems are proven to have a positive effect in increasing the representation of women in politics, as well as on corporate boards, but they are met with resistance from both men and women in Denmark, especially among Danish business leaders. Through empirical analysis of interviews with 45 Danish top managers, this paper investigates such resistance. Although the initial focus of the research agenda for the interviews was not quotas per se, but identity, gender and leadership more generally, the resistance towards – and even fear of – quotas was repeatedly brought up by interviewees, thereby unsettling the conversation. Based on this disturbance, we theorise gender quotas in organisations along a ghostly methodology as something uncanny. The analysis shows how the mere idea of quotas haunts the managers, who, in return, try to hunt down the quota ghost, as it apparently poses a threat to the current understanding of meritocracy. The fear of quotas seems to be what holds back the realisation of sustained gender equality. We argue that this fear is irrational and illogical and therefore suggest an approach of appeasement. Listening to the whispers of the ghost, we outline new presentunderstandings of merit. We hope that even if this paper does not bring legitimacy to quotas in the way that has happened in politics (in some countries), it will at least bring legitimacy to the discussion.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEphemera: Theory & politics in organization
Volume19
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)77-105
Number of pages29
ISSN1473-2866
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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