By Suneeti Ahuja-Kohli Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
With less than a quarter of women filling up senior positions in the workforce worldwide, could a quota system help narrow the gap in the corporate sector?
The recently compiled list of the most powerful people in the world by Forbes has only one woman, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in the top ten and top four in the first 50.
At the corporate board level, women employees make up less than a quarter of total senior workforce, states a new research from the Grand Thorton International Business Report (IBR).
Statistically, the world hasn't fared any better in the last decade in terms of encouraging and bringing in more women in the top positions.
In 2014, globally the proportion of senior roles filled by women stood at 24 per cent. The proportion was the same in 2013, 2009 and 2007.
Regionally, the UAE and India fare badly with just 9 per cent of women commanding top slots.
In comparison, regions like Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia are better with 37 and 35 per cent, respectively, of women representations at the top.
The numbers are staggering and directing the discussion on 'women in the boardroom' to the dangerous territory of reservations or the quota system.
While it might seem an apt policy decision to bring about a change in the boardrooms, a lot of women are hesitant to be seen in a tokenistic light rather than accepted for their individual talent.
"I don't think bringing in reservations in the boardroom serve as a plausible solution. We need a change of perception; it is still a male-dominated society where men are seen as providers and women as care givers, a more subjugated role of a supporter," says Sri Lankan national Dilukshi Thomas Dunnink, who works as a training manager with an IT firm in Dubai.
As someone who is also in charge of hiring people for her company, Dilukshi says her company prefers to have women with good higher education on board as they are more stable. "I don't mean to generalise, but we have noticed that women employees are more stable than men."
In her career spanning a little over eight years, she has had only two female bosses.
The views are varied. Diana Santos, Filipina working as a Business Development Manager in Dubai, supports the idea of reservations. She is the only women in her department. "I deal in the architecture and design industry which is largely dominated by males. I think we just have two women in the office: I and the HR manager. Besides, we are surrounded by male employees. Since this industry is dominated largely by men, a lot of women don't enter it. Having some sort of reservations in the boardroom will encourage women to enter work fields that have traditionally been a man's domain. It will help because men and women both have their strengths and bring different perspectives and ways of doing business," she says.
Monica Nelson, UK citizen working with a university in London, on the other hand, sees this more as a structural issue.
"In the UK, I do not see this debate much. We all have equal opportunities. In my workplace, we have a balance between men and women numbers. I think it is because my company gives a lot of support to working mothers. They enjoy flexible work hours and even an option to work from home. These factors do make a lot of difference."
The IBR also shows support for the introduction of quotas to get more women on board is growing. Globally, close to one in two business leaders (at around 45 per cent) would like to see quotas for the number of women on boards of large listed companies.
This figure is up from just 37 per cent in 2013. Interestingly, the support has grown sharply in the EU marking an eight percentage point jump from 33 per cent to 41 per cent.
With the number of women making it from classrooms to boardrooms staying stagnant for a decade, the debate on quotas might have an answer. And reservations, a possible solution.