'Women-Friendly' State Interventions and Occupational Gender Segregation: Paradise or Paradox?
An influential body of work has identified a ‘welfare-state paradox’: work-family policies that bring women into the workforce also undermine women’s access to the top jobs. Missing from this literature is a consideration of how welfare-state interventions impact on women’s representation at the board-level specifically, rather than managerial and lucrative positions more generally. This article contributes to addressing this ‘gap’. A fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis of 22 industrialised countries reveals how welfare-state interventions combine with gender boardroom quotas and targets in (not) bringing a ‘critical mass’ of women onto private-sector corporate boards. Overall, the analysis finds limited evidence in support of a welfare-state paradox. Moreover, widespread childcare services are associated with a greater share of women on boards. The results further suggest that ‘hard’, mandatory gender boardroom quotas are not necessary for achieving more women on boards; ‘soft’, voluntary recommendations can work too, but only under certain family policy constellations.
This paper argues that analyses of the gendered character of welfare states should be broadened to include women’s share of board and executive roles, as well as the affirmative-action policies (e.g. gender boardroom quotas) that overcome the gender stereotypes (e.g. women are ‘nice’, men are ‘assertive’) and opaque selection procedures at the root of this. Such indicators may seem beyond the remit of social policy analysis, which is concerned foremost with the analysis of ‘social risk’. Yet, drawing on research evidence from across multiple disciplines, this paper argues that achieving a ‘critical mass’ of women in board and executive positions can bring women’s issues onto companies’ agendas and lead to the adoption of female-friendly practices, policies, and cultures at the firm-level. In turn, these practices, policies, and cultures can help to reduce the incidence of gendered social risks (employment/care conflicts, economic dependence on a partner) and sexual harassment among women at lower levels of the labour market. Thus, the paper highlights another dimension to the social-regulatory function of welfare states that has, to date, been overlooked, namely legislative requirements on companies to achieve gender diversity in their leadership structures.