Should your gender be a key factor in getting you on a corporate board?

When California adopted its “woman quota” requiring women on the boards of  publicly traded corporations headquartered in the state, some reports hailed it as a “breakthrough” or “boost” for women in the business world.  

Just the opposite, says Pacific Legal Foundation senior lawyer Anastasia Boden.

In an interview with Lynn Smith of CNN’s HLN, Boden argued that because of the “woman quota” “people will ask whether a woman is being hired based on her merit or to fill a quota.”

The law requires that all publicly traded companies have at least one woman on the board of directors by the end of this year. Companies with at least five directors must have two or three women, contingent on the size of the board, by 2021.

Penalties imposed for not meeting the requirement are stiff.

Pacific Legal Foundation is representing Creighton Meland, a shareholder in one of the affected corporations. Meland says that this quota will mean that shareholders must discriminate on the basis of sex when selecting board members.

An “exceedingly persuasive justification” is required for sex-based measures. The lawsuit argues that California’s “woman quota” doesn’t meet this benchmark.

Boden argues that furthermore it is condescending to women.

“This law puts equal numbers above equal treatment,” Boden said. “This law is built on the condescending belief that women aren’t capable of getting into the boardroom unless the government opens the door for them. Women are capable of earning a spot on corporate boards without the government coercing businesses to hire them.”

Not only it the law unfair to women—it is unfair to boards.

Sometimes boards need specific talents.

Sometimes it is a woman, and sometimes it is a man who possesses the needed talent.

But Boden is right—the stiff penalties for not meeting the quota imply that those who wrote the law believe that they must force people to accept women.

There may have been a time when this was the case, but today we don’t need to browbeat boards to get them to welcome talented women.

The fines send all the wrong message about women.