49th St. Gallen Symposium "Capital for Purpose": 8–10 May 2019


Negative effects caused by seemingly positive change

A recent article of Forbes has caught my attention and made me look at the issue of short-term thinking in a new way. Typically, we will associate long- or short-term thinking to the business world, where it is criticised that large companies only focus on profit maximization and neglect their surroundings. However, this article spoke about short-term thinking in a social context.

Large companies only focus on profit maximization...

What astonished me the most was that the article showed the negative consequences of the striving for a positive change. This sounds more abstract than it actually is. The main point of the article is that the expectation and demand in today’s society is to promote equal representation of men and women in businesses. Therefore, there are standards being implemented, which require a minimal representation of women on the boards of companies until 2019. This technically positive intention however is enforced in a very short time and if the requirements are not met, companies are confronted with fines.

To a certain extent, things like this irritate me. Firstly, a consequence of such minimal standards mean that in many cases women will be voted on boards simply because of their gender and not because of their skills. Secondly, I believe that such a development needs more time than what is given by the implementation of the requirement. Even though the empowerment of women in businesses has been around for quite a while now, the movement has only reached its maximal potential in the last couple of years. And now we want to see results immediately. However, we cannot change the structure of businesses from one day to another. Of course, equal treatment and representation on boards is the final goal, however this takes time to develop.

We cannot change the structure of businesses from one day to another

This made me realise that one of the most important principles in such situations is proportionality. Let’s ask ourselves, whether such a measurement is adequate to the situation? Aren’t there other ways to reach the same goal? And are we not tending towards an “overkill” measurement simply because we want to see results fast?

With regard to the topic of the 49th St. Gallen Symposium “Capital for Purpose”, I believe we need to focus on other measures in order to achieve the equal treatment and representation of women in businesses. One approach would be to promote a “quality-seeking” and open-minded culture in businesses, rather than a “women-seeking” culture. We need to think about how we treat human capital in a way that benefits the individual as well as the company. We need to value men and women equally and assess them regarding their quality and suitability for a certain job or position, not simply because quotas need to be fulfilled.

Simply because quotas need to be fulfilled

Thereby it must be said that the basis of it all is an equal chance and opportunity for both men and women. An equal chance to education and an equal level of education is crucial. One might think this is obviously given today – however, we need to consider all of the countries, not just the Western culture. This is where we can be a role model, if we “live” the principle of equality. For that we do not need minimal standards, this can be done by simply giving the people the chances and jobs that they deserve.