Gender quotas: Collective Action

Thoughts Topical

Another issue is the effect of quotas on collective action. According to Social Identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979) people have a sense of belonging to distinct social groups. The ability for individuals to move between different groups depends on the permeability of the group boundaries (is it easy to move into the higher status group?). When group boundaries are permeable, it suggests that individual merit will achieve advancement (Ellemers, Knippenberg Wilke, 1990). The possibility of improving one’s own status may reduce willingness to engage in collective action, where a disadvantaged group seeks to improve the whole group’s status (Taylor & McKirnan, 1984). This individual mobility also leads to a decrease in identification with the disadvantaged ingroup, which is crucial for collective action (Mummendey, Klink, Mielke, Wenzel, & Blanz, 1999). The first two studies are based on experimental groups, so may have limited validity, but the latter derives from a more valid field study. The implications are that because quotas cause group boundaries to be highly restrictive but permeable, they will reduce collective action. Additionally, seeing women in high-status positions encourages the belief that general inequality is not an issue, and that a woman’s individually disadvantaged status is due to her inadequate personal attributes and achievements (Wright & Taylor, 1999). In turn, this causes even less support for collective action. Therefore, it follows that the success of individual women because of quotas may demotivate others from engaging in collective action, which is detrimental to the possibility of social change for gender equality.

Ellemers, N., Knippenberg, A., & Wilke, H. (1990). The influence of permeability of group boundaries and stability of group status on strategies of individual mobility and social change. British Journal of Social Psychology, 29(3), 233–246.

Mummendey, A., Klink, A., Mielke, R., Wenzel, M., & Blanz, M. (1999). Socio-structural characteristics of intergroup relations and identity management strategies: Results from a field study in East Germany. European Journal of Social Psychology, 29(2-3), 259–285.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The Social Psychology Of Intergroup Relations (pp. 33–47). Monterey: Brooks-Cole.

Taylor, D. M., & McKirnan, D. J. (1984). Theoretical contributions: A five-stage model of intergroup relations. British Journal of Social Psychology, 23(4), 291–300.

Wright, S. C., & Taylor, D. M. (1999). Success under tokenism: Co-option of the newcomer and the prevention of collective protest. British Journal of Social Psychology, 38(4), 369–396.