Better Ideas for More Women in Top Positions?

Is a quota a good idea for more women in top positions in business?

This question has only three possible answers: Yes, No or It Depends. See here the deficit of critical thinking in a nutshell. Are there alternatives to quotas?

What is the problem to be solved?

Women in the workforce are faced with “the glass ceiling.” Those women are prevented from receiving promotion, especially to the executive rankings, within their corporation. Within the last twenty years, the women who are becoming more involved and pertinent in industries and organizations have rarely been in the executive ranks. Women in most corporations encompass below five percent of board of directors and corporate officer positions.

However, there is also a gender pay gap. Women are generally paid less than men. It should therefore be more advantageous for companies to appoint women to top positions.

Contradictions are perfect prompts to do a thinking effort. Those ¨either/or” problems force one to think ¨outside the box¨.

Design Task

Can we design ideas to get women in top positions without mandatory quotas?

The trick is to avoid the framing of the problem as dichotomies – two things that are mutually exclusive. Can we design a solution where the gender pay gap and glass house ceilings for women both will be solved?

Remember to look for long-term solutions rather than short-term.


You could attack the problem with three tools.

  • – Redefine the problem
  • – Set up a Provocative Operation
  • – Formulate a Beautiful Question

Redefine the Problem at least twenty times

  • Redefine the problem in at least 20 ways
    • The problem here is … and… also… and … too, and perhaps …
    • Maybe you will get some immediate ideas; good chances that they are obvious, but put them in a parking place and continue in an effort to explore further possibilities.
  • Choose one or two least obvious problem definitions; chances they will get you to the most creative ideas.
  • Move on to a practical idea.


  • The problem here is that men are male chauvinist pigs
  • and also that most women are incompetent to lead companies
  • and also that top jobs are so weakly defined, that it is not posible to formulate exact criteria for candidates, so there is much room for gender bias,
  • the problem also is that candidates are sought in old boys networks.

We take the last one as most promising for arriving at a practical, but novel idea. The most obvious and thus boring idea would be to establish old girls networks. Let´s shift focus to recruiting networks as service clubs and golf courses.

This could lead to the idea that service clubs like Lions, Rotary or Round Tables, should apply a 50 – 50 male-female membership policy. Also for business conferences.

Setting up Provocative Operations

  1. Set up a Provocative Operation.
  2. Take that Provocation that is already nearly a practical idea, or take the most excotic one.
  3. Move to a practical idea that you could implement today if you had enough authority, time and resources.


Let´s use the reversal tool to set up a Provocation: In What Ways Might We get less men in top positions with mandatory quotas?

This will shift the focus from women (not enough, not qualified, not available, not competent, not willing) to men (too many, too overrated, too favored). It may also result in a number of vacancies not being filled. Companies will then engage executive search companies that are specialized in finding top-level female candidates for senior, executive, or other highly specialized positions.

A Beautiful Question

  • Formulate a Beautiful Question: a bold ambition + a significant constraint
  • Propell your thinking with exploring possible answers to ¨ We Can If….¨


The Beautiful Question is how to get that all Board of Directors of big companies consist of at least 80% females, and at the same time smashing the glass ceiling that prevents the promotion of women to executive ranks.

It might be that business is or is constructed as a masculine game that for a company to survive, requires is a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles associated with boys and men.

Ms Monopoly

If we can change ¨doing business¨ into a feminine game and create ¨feminine markets¨ , then traits traditionally cited as feminine could be a competitive advantage for companies. Hence, a heavy need for females in the top of enterprises will arise.

In a next blog post we will show our thinking efforts.

Good Thinkibility!

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