In 2013, California led the way in board inclusion by becoming the first state to pass a resolution that promotes gender equality on public company boards.

Since then, five other states have joined in what has become a push for public board gender quotas in the U.S. Yet many experts aren’t convinced that enforcing gender quotas is the answer to a future of board diversity in the country. Some believe the quota could in fact be harmful to the country’s larger goals of gender parity and board diversity.

Case in Point: The State of Gender Equality on Boards in Iowa

Iowa passed laws requiring gender balance on state boards and commissions in 1987. In 2009, Iowa extended the law to include county and municipal boards and commissions. Yet a long history of gender laws has not made Iowa a role-model state for board inclusion. Every two years since 2012, the Gender Balance Project by the Catt Center has measured Iowa’s success rate in becoming gender balanced. Instead of improving, Iowa’s boards have gotten worse in terms of gender equality.

In 2016, six counties out of Iowa’s 99 had achieved the goal of gender balance. Fast forward to 2018, and this number has dropped to four counties (Harrison, Jasper, Scott, and Winneshiek). In Iowa, the percentage of women acting as vice chairs dropped by 6 percent from 2016 to 2018. Women’s inclusion on compensation boards is especially low, with only 40 percent gender-balanced. However, Iowa boards are doing better with female representation on boards of health, with 78 percent in the state gender-balanced.

The Larger Problem of Gender Diversity

Some authorities on the subject, such as corporate governance attorneys David Katz and Laura McIntosh, aren’t sure if gender quotas for boards of directors of public companies cause harm or good to the larger diversity goals of the U.S. In their article on the subject, they question if quotas increase the right type of diversity, as well as if they are stirring change fast enough. The issues and roadblocks surrounding Iowa’s efforts may be evidence that the quotas aren’t the right answer.

No one is arguing the importance of gender diversity on public boards. Diversity is critical to gaining inclusive perspectives and engaging a larger segment of the population. Quotas may or may not be the answer to national gender equality on boards, however. Only time will tell. Either way, the intention of fixing the gender gap on public boards is a step in the right direction. If your company needs help attracting diverse board members, contact Schabel Solutions.

Claudia Schabel is president of Schabel Solutions, a consulting firm that works with workplaces to make them more inclusive.