New Research on Targets and Quotas by the CEL

How implementing reporting requirements, targets and quotas can increase the representation of women in leadership

Melbourne - February 10th, 2016

The implementation of gender targets and quotas is associated with a higher representation of women on boards of directors and parliaments across the world, according to a new study from the Centre for Ethical Leadership by authors Dr. Victor E. Sojo (Centre for Ethical Leadership [CEL] and the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences), Professor Robert E. Wood (CEL & Australian Graduate School of Management) Professor Sally A. Wood (Sydney University), and Dr. Melissa A. Wheeler (CEL & Melbourne Poche Centre for Indigenous Health).

In three studies the authors examined the association between the introduction of reporting requirements, targets, and quotas and female representation in leadership positions in the business sector and politics. The results of the study led the authors to recommend that “Countries, companies, and political parties seeking to increase female representation should consider quotas or targets with strong enforcement mechanisms and be mindful of the fact that, as in most areas of endeavor, the level of representation achieved will be directly related to the level of challenge in the goal set and how much the goal has been accepted by the key stakeholders.”

Using data on female representation on boards of directors of Fortune 500 companies from 1996 to 2015 (Study 1), and two cross-national data sets of female representation on boards of directors in 91 countries (Study 2), and of female representation in 260 houses of parliaments across 190 nations (Study 3), the researchers had three key findings.

First, the study found that a requirement to report on board diversity was linked to the appointment of more women to directorship positions in Fortune 500 Companies. However, the specific supply-side strategies companies might adopt, such as mentoring, targeted development, and networking, will have a large impact on future levels of female representation on boards of directors. Second, gender targets and quotas were clearly associated with higher female representation on boards of directors and in parliaments across the world – for example, Finland, France, Iceland, Italy, Norway, and Sweden have either targets or quotas for women on boards of directors and have achieved levels of representation significantly larger than the world average. Third, increasing the level of female representation in leadership positions still requires a combination of demand-side and supply side strategies.

“Female participation in the labor force has consistently increased in the last sixty years worldwide… Over the last four decades, women have considerably increased their human capital… and gender desegregation has occurred in several higher education programs, particularly in business, law, and medicine” wrote the study authors, “However, the gap between men and women in the occupation of managerial roles and political empowerment remains wide.”   

Find out more by reading the full article, “Reporting requirements, targets, and quotas for women in leadership,” available here. To discuss how this research impacts your organisation, or for a copy of the article, contact us at or on +613 9344 1406.