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4 min read

Why organizations should approach diversity quotas with caution

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In light of recent social justice movements worldwide, companies are scrambling to improve or even start an inclusion program. When organizations first begin to set up inclusion programs, they typically start with a diversity quota. While the concept of diversity quotas comes from a good place, some inherent challenges may stem from implementing them if you are not careful. 

It goes without saying that setting diversity and inclusion objectives and targets are critical to an organization's strategic and purposeful effort toward achieving inclusion. Still, organizations should use caution when setting their quotas. 

By now, you may be asking yourself, why do I need to use caution when implementing our diversity quotas? Glad you asked. Below are four reasons why you should approach diversity quotas with caution. 

4 Reasons to Use Caution When Using Diversity Quotas:
  1. Diversity quotas can create the stigma that people are hired based on their identity, not their qualifications—further ostracizing the person from being valued and included by their team.

  2. Diversity quotas can prevent qualified people from applying for a role because of expected backlash in the workplace.

  3. Diversity quotas fail to address the true cause of underrepresentation, exclusion, and discrimination in the workplace.

  4. Diversity quotas require the systematic quantification of individuals based on superficial characteristics such as gender and skin color or the disclosure of personal details protected by employment law.

If you and or your organization has decided to implement diversity quotas to generate awareness, focus attention, or start the conversation, we applaud your efforts and say keep moving forward. To help you achieve your goal of becoming a more diversified and inclusive organization, here are six tips to keep in mind if you choose to set diversity quotas. 

6 Ways to Avoid Common Pitfalls of Diversity Quotas:
Change the Narrative

Understanding how you position and communicate your affirmative action plan will make a positive difference with your existing team. Support your quota or affirmative action plan by explaining the need to remedy past discrimination or demonstrate how the quota is necessary to increase diversity, benefiting all employees, customers, the community, and the organization. 

Choose the Right Number

Using gender representation as an example, you are unlikely to perpetuate any positive change if you set your quota at 20% women. You will instead incur an adverse reaction when 50% of the population are women.

Do not set your quota as an easy-to-achieve incremental target, as this will only lead to incremental progress. Instead, consider the representation of underrepresented groups within the context of your organization and then set accordingly. 

Expand Your Quotas

Focussing on increasing the representation of a single underrepresented identity sends the message that it's the only identity the organization believes is essential to represent. So if you are setting a quota for one identity, consider setting quotas for other identities simultaneously.

Use Lead Indicators

A quota is a lag indicator. Lagging indicators are final when you review them, which means you can do nothing to change the outcome. Instead, use lead indicators because they measure the things that can be monitored and tracked now. This way, if you're not on the right track to achieve your goals, you can still make adjustments to your strategy.


Using an approach based on lead indicators allows you to communicate more frequently with smaller wins and progress.

Provide Support

Simply imposing a quota is not enough and will never work. You need to support your efforts by setting up inclusion initiatives for your entire company. These initiatives should educate your organization and show them the benefits of working inclusively, utilizing inclusive decision-making, and inclusive behaviors within your organization. 

Representation Does Not Equal Inclusion

Achieving a quota for an identity group does not automatically mean those people are being 'included' in your organization. Nor does diversity does equal representation. Instead, efforts must be made to ensure the organization provides an environment that values and empowers underrepresented groups to thrive in their roles and careers.

One last note:

Allowing individuals to thrive in their roles is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the benefits of having an authentically inclusive organization. 

When you go beyond diversity quotas and your company embraces inclusion and diversity throughout, you will find an organization with higher productivity, lower turnover rate, higher job satisfaction, and higher employee morale. If that's not reason enough, having a truly inclusive organization will positively impact your bottom line. 

About the Author

Dr Liz is the CEO and Co-founder of Include, a behavioral scientist and organizational transformation expert with a career focus on assisting businesses, teams, and individuals to be the best they can be. Now known as ‘The Inclusionist’, Dr Liz is on a mission to create a world where everyone is included. Her innovative, yet pragmatic Include™ approach is creating a global movement of change through the organizations, governments, and institutions we all interact with daily.

Connect with Dr Liz on LinkedIn


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