This is an overview of the project “Quotas as a policy tool in disability and gender equality policies” (May 2019 – May 2021), which I am conducting at OSC. This project has received funding from Sciences Po’s Scientific advisory board (SAB).
This project aims at exploring the meanings and practices of quotas as a policy tool used to redress power imbalances between social groups, comparing the cases of gender and disability.
Context, theoretical framework and research question
This research design draws on the literature on policy tools (Halpern, Lascoumes, and Le Galès 2014; Lascoumes and Le Galès 2005), which has stressed the fruitfulness of exploring policy meaning and transformation through the lens of specific policy tools, such as, here, the quota. As shown by this body of research, “following” a given tool, both historically and through the policy process that goes from its initial conception to its reception by target populations, provides major insights into the meaning and evolution of a given policy.
The policies I compare in this project, disability policy and gender equality policy, are most often studied separately. They relate to different bodies of research, and for the most part, researchers specialize in either one of the fields without much cross-field discussion. I argue that these two policy domains, however, would gain from a joint exploration. Indeed, they share several key features: they target populations which are socially marginalized (at various and evolving degrees), they have generally evolved throughout the XXth century from a protective to an egalitarian logic (to a much clearer extent in the case of gender), and as policy sectors, they share common characteristics in terms of the tension between sectorial and cross-sectorial interventions (mainstreaming), as well as in terms of relative marginality within the state apparatus.
As part of a broader, long-term endeavor to compare these two policy domains based on my previous work on each of them (Revillard 2016, 2017), this research project tackles this comparative puzzle through the entry point of a common policy tool that these two policies sectors share, the quota. The aim of the project is to analyze both the diverse cognitive framings of this policy tool (Benford and Snow 2000; Gusfield 1981), and the practices of the actors involved in its adoption, implementation and reception (Barrault 2014).
Quotas, for or against antidiscrimination?
Gender quotas are increasingly used as a tool of gender equality policy, in fields such as political representation or access to managerial positions in the private as well as in the public sector (Laufer and Paoletti 2015; Lépinard and Rubio-Marin 2018). As such, they are generally understood as part of antidiscrimination policy, as a tool of affirmative action (Calvès 2004, 2016; Sabbagh 2003; Stryker 2001), and aim at reducing power imbalances in the most prestigious spheres of society. In France, they have become a common policy tool since the 2000s, after the adoption of the parity law: quotas have been implemented at the level of the executive boards of the largest companies, in juries and recruitment committees in higher education, as well as in the top managerial positions in the civil service. In this last sector, for example, the 2012 Sauvadet law imposes a gradual quota of up to 40% of “persons of each sex” in appointments to the highest civil service positions.
This recent use of quotas framed in terms of antidiscrimination policy in the field of gender contrasts with the way quotas have been analyzed as opposite to antidiscrimination in the field of disability. In this sector, quotas are an old policy tool. In several European countries, employment quotas were put in place in the aftermath of World War I. In France, such post-war provisions were at the origin of a series of reforms extending and reinforcing the quota, in 1957, 1987 and 2005 – leading to the current 6% disabled worker quota imposed to firms of 20 employees or more. These quotas were not initially framed in terms of antidiscrimination, but as an alternate form of social protection for disabled war veterans in a context when there was limited leeway to increase the level of war pensions (Romien 2005). Decades later, when the US disability rights movement started promoting antidiscrimination as of the 1970s, quotas were commonly described as opposite to the logic of antidiscrimination – a characterization which was reflected in the main typologies of disability policy produced in law and political science (Heyer 2005; Waddington 1994). In these theories, quotas are presented as a feature of the “welfare model” which, based on an individual and medical definition of disability, channels disabled people into lower level social positions and a diminished social status. By contrast, the “civil rights model”, based on the social model of disability, promotes equality and antidiscrimination (Heyer 2005).
This fluctuant meaning given to quotas as a policy tool, as documented by secondary sources, paves the way for a broad research project comparing the adoption, implementation and reception of quotas in the fields of gender and disability, focusing on the representations and practices of the quota at each stage of the political process. The present SAB project will focus mainly on adoption and implementation, and to a limited extent on reception, comparing the 6% employment quotas in the field of disability and the 40% higher civil service quota in the field of gender.
The question of the meaning conferred to quotas can first be approached at the level of policy adoption. Based on parliamentary debates and press reviews, I will explore the way quotas are conceived by policymakers.
A first question to be asked at this level relates to the emergence of quotas on the policy agenda (Kingdon 1995). When and how, in the policy sectors of disability and gender, does the idea of quotas as a policy tool emerge? As pointed earlier, in the case of disability, the context of World War I had a major impact; getting back to historical works as well as to the parliamentary debates from this time period as well as around the adoption of the 1957, 1987 and 2005 laws will help deepen the understanding of the emergence of this policy tool. The question appears more ambiguous in the case of gender quotas. Indeed, major works on the genesis of the 2000 parity law (in the field of political representation) have stressed that the adoption of this law has been made possible precisely thanks to its distancing from a framing in terms of quotas (Laure Bereni 2015; Laure Bereni and Lépinard 2004). More recent studies in sociology and political science have shown that one decade later, the idea of quotas has become much more commonly accepted, to the point of quotas functioning as a very common policy tool in various domains of gender equality policy. Even though structural factors accounting for this entrenchment of quotas have been stressed, such as the role of state feminism and the normative impact of the 2008 Constitutional reform (Lépinard 2016), the precise moments and actors through which this shift happened remain unaccounted for. A more refined process-tracing analysis is needed to account for these missing causal links between structural factors and this changing status of quotas (Palier and Trampusch 2018).
A second interrogation relates to the terms being used. A first exploration suggests a contrast, in this matter, between press coverage and less formal policy discussions on the one hand, and official policy statements and legal discussions on the other hand. While the term “quotas” is often used in the press, as well as by actors in charge of policy adoption and implementation in more informal settings, this policy tool often has other official names, such as “obligation of employment” (obligation d’emploi) in the field of disability (DARES 2017), or “parity” or “balanced representation” in the field of gender (Laure Bereni 2015; Bui-xuan 2015). Hence an important question arises regarding the term: when are quotas referred to as “quotas”, by whom, and when they are not, what are the other terms being used and why?
Finally, and most importantly for our concern, how are quotas framed? My aim will be both to characterize these cognitive framings of quotas (what meaning do policymakers give to this policy tool?) and to try to explain them (Benford and Snow 2000; Gusfield 1981). To what extent are quotas envisioned as an alternate form of protection allotted to a vulnerable population, or as a tool to deepen equality by promoting members of the targeted group at the highest levels of power? And beyond this dichotomist apprehension oriented by secondary literature, what connections may appear, in practice, between the two frames? How do these meanings vary over time, across actors and policy debates? Are they systematically associated to different target populations (protection for disabled people, equality for women), or does this meaning evolve following the evolution of the social status of the social group involved (Pedriana 2006)? How do the technical characteristics of the quota at stake (notably the level of constraint involved, and the hierarchical level at which it is implemented) influence its perception and the meanings it is endowed with?
The meaning of quotas may then be transformed at the level of implementation: how do the actors in charge of implementing the quota understand its meaning? What discourse do they produce around it? And beyond discourse, what do they do with the quota? How do they technically implement it? What difficulties are they faced with, and how does the implementation process retroact upon their conception of the quota?
While the first step of this research, working at the level of policy adoption, will require taking into account various policy debates, at the stage of implementation I will focus on two specific cases: the implementation of the Sauvadet law and the implementation of the 6% disability quota in the civil service following the 2005 reform. I have chosen these two cases because they target the same perimeter (the public administration), albeit at expectedly opposite hierarchical levels: while the disability quota has traditionally targeted lower level occupations, the gender quota targets the highest levels of management.
Various actors are involved in the implementation of these two laws. In both cases, central policy actors are in charge of monitoring the implementation of the law across the whole public administration: these are the FIPHFP (Fonds pour l’insertion des personnes handicapées dans la fonction publique) in the case of disability, and the DGAFP (Direction générale de l’administration et de la fonction publique) in the case of gender. These main policy actors will be my first and main focus of inquiry. In a second step, I will investigate at the level of ministerial departments (Marry et al. 2017; Revillard et al. 2018).
Finally, the meaning of quotas can be revisited at the level of policy reception, defined as the set of processes by which a public policy is appropriated and co-constructed by its target group, and by which it produces its effects on them (Revillard 2018). How do target populations perceive the quota, and what do they do with it? An interesting question working at this level will be to explore to what extent rationales regarding the use or non-use of quotas may converge, in spite of their initial divergence at the level of policy making.
Working at the level of policy reception is much more fieldwork-intensive than the two other stages listed above. Within the timeframe of this project, reception will only be included in an exploratory manner, in the case of disability, in order to provide a comparison point to previous research on the reception of gender quotas (L. Bereni and Revillard 2015). Parallel to this qualitative exploration of the reception of quotas, quantitative elements will be compiled, as available, notably through the implementation bodies mentioned above, in order to provide first elements of measurement of the quotas’ effects (Jaffrès and Guével 2017).
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 Loi n° 2012-347 du 12 mars 2012 relative à l’accès à l’emploi titulaire et à l’amélioration des conditions d’emploi des agents contractuels dans la fonction publique, à la lutte contre les discriminations et portant diverses dispositions relatives à la fonction publique
 Loi n°57-1223 du 23 novembre 1957 sur le reclassement des travailleurs handicapés
 Loi n° 87-517 du 10 juillet 1987 en faveur de l’emploi des travailleurs handicapés
 Loi n° 2005-102 du 11 février 2005 pour l’égalité des droits et des chances, la participation et la citoyenneté des personnes handicapées
 Loi n° 2000-493 du 6 juin 2000 tendant à favoriser l’égal accès des femmes et des hommes aux mandats électoraux et fonctions électives