Employment quotas: the pros and cons
12/13/11

In an uncoordinated way, European countries are developing increasingly restrictive compulsory quota policies in order to encourage diversity in the world of work, but not without resistances. Two researchers from Liége , Annie Cornet and Christophe Cusumano (HEC/ULg) explain the policy of quotas in France and Belgium, in an article to be published in L’Encyclopédie de la Diversité: Regards Croisés (1) (Encyclopaedia of Diversity: Exchange of Views).

fauteuil roulant travailFor various reasons, certain groups experience difficulties gaining access to employment or senior positions, at least in proportions that reflect their numbers in the total population. This is why certain countries are striving to correct these imbalances by introducing quotas to promote diversity in the workplace. In this respect, there is no uniform model in European countries but, in their study, the authors focussed on the legal provisions in Belgium and France.

But first of all, what is a quota? It is a target set by law or by an organisation. To meet the desired quota, organisations may carry out positive actions, targeted at a group (women, men, young people, older workers, people of foreign origin…) or positive discrimination, i.e. measures that give preferential treatment to people who belong to certain groups that are deemed to be high-priority. Positive discrimination refers to temporary measures whose purpose is to repair past discriminations and to allow target groups to catch up in terms of their representation.

Some laws say nothing about the procedures to be applied in order to meet the targets and, therefore, about whether a representative of the target group must only be chosen over another candidate if they are equally qualified. Other laws place a duty on employers to recruit a person belonging to the target group regardless of their competence in order to level the playing field.


In France there are disability and gender quotas in boardrooms and apprenticeships. In Belgium there are disability and gender equality quotas in boardrooms. However, these two countries do not have quotas in favour of other target groups such as, for example, people of foreign origin. This is due to the fact that, unlike in other countries such as the United Kingdom or the United States, it is illegal to collect data on origin other than nationality.

(1) L’encyclopédie de la Diversité: regards croisés (Encyclopaedia of Diversity: Exchange of Views) Jean-Marie Peretti, editor. Editions EMS

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