Media Releases

Gender quotas work in “tight” cultures, says new paper from the University of Toronto

July 17, 2014

TORONTO, ON – Quo­tas prob­a­bly won’t get more women into the board­room in places like the U.S. and Cana­da.

They have a bet­ter chance how­ev­er in coun­tries such as Chi­na or Ger­many where peo­ple place a high­er val­ue on obey­ing author­i­ty and con­form­ing to cul­tur­al norms, say a pair of researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to’s Rot­man School of Man­age­ment. Their con­clu­sions are pub­lished in the jour­nal Orga­ni­za­tion­al Dynam­ics and in a blog for the Har­vard Busi­ness Review.

It all comes down to a cul­ture’s “tight­ness” or “loose­ness” — the degree to which a cul­ture main­tains social norms, adheres to author­i­ty struc­tures and tol­er­ates devi­a­tions from them, say Profs. Soo Min Toh and Geof­frey Leonardel­li. Glob­al orga­ni­za­tions seek­ing to expand their female lead­er­ship ranks need to under­stand which kind of cul­ture they’re oper­at­ing in to take the right approach, the authors sug­gest.

“It’s cer­tain­ly an issue that has the atten­tion of a lot of cor­po­ra­tions right now,” says Toh, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of orga­ni­za­tion­al behav­iour at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Mississagua’s Insti­tute of Man­age­ment & Inno­va­tion, who is cross-appoint­ed to the Rot­man School. “There has been very lit­tle change in the last few years.”

Tight cul­tures such as those in Chi­na, Ger­many and Pak­istan have a low­er tol­er­ance for devi­a­tion from cul­tur­al norms and may even impose severe sanc­tions for doing so. Loose cul­tures, such as in the U.S., New Zealand and Hun­gary, tend to be more open to change and expe­ri­ence high­er rates of change than tight cul­tures.

Tight cul­tures tend to have the worst rates of female lead­er­ship, but the com­pli­ance they com­mand can be used to advan­tage, mak­ing gen­der quo­ta strate­gies much more effec­tive, say the researchers. Nor­way, con­sid­ered a tight cul­ture, achieved a tar­get of 40% of women in direc­tor posi­tions at pub­lic com­pa­nies by 2007 through a quo­ta that includ­ed dis­so­lu­tion of those firms that failed to meet the thresh­old.

“It’s eas­i­er for tight cul­tures to imple­ment poli­cies like that because of the top-down approach to pol­i­cy-mak­ing,” says Prof. Toh. “In a loose cul­ture how­ev­er, it’s very hard to say, ‘This is how we’re going to do it, so there.’ ”

Loose cul­tures, although exhibit­ing high­er rates of gen­der egal­i­tar­i­an­ism over­all, may be at a dis­ad­van­tage for advanc­ing the cause because of prob­lems get­ting agree­ment on how to trans­late egal­i­tar­i­an prin­ci­ples into prac­tice.

The researchers spec­u­late that in those cas­es, show­cas­ing women lead­ers as role mod­els may be a more effec­tive way of chang­ing the per­cep­tions of deci­sion-mak­ers and women them­selves about what lead­er­ship looks like, result­ing in more women step­ping for­ward and being cho­sen for lead­er­ship roles. In one exper­i­ment, women who were exposed to pic­tures and biogra­phies of promi­nent female lead­ers were more like­ly to sub­se­quent­ly see com­pat­i­bil­i­ty between women and lead­er­ship.

For the lat­est think­ing on busi­ness, man­age­ment and eco­nom­ics from the Rot­man School of Man­age­ment, vis­it

The Rot­man School of Man­age­ment at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to is redesign­ing busi­ness edu­ca­tion for the 21st cen­tu­ry with a cur­ricu­lum based on Inte­gra­tive Think­ing. Locat­ed in the world’s most diverse city, the Rot­man School fos­ters a new way to think that enables the design of cre­ative busi­ness solu­tions. For more infor­ma­tion, vis­it


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Ken McGuf­fin
Man­ag­er, Media Rela­tions
Rot­man School of Man­age­ment
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
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