Psychiatric Disorders and the Americans with Disabilities Act: Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness in the Workplace

“There is a big problem between what the law states in terms of discrimination and the reality in the workplace,” stated Alison Gibbs, a senior policy officer for Mind. “We recently conducted a poll where a great number of people reported being discriminated against [because of] mental illness – people being demoted, refused promotion, or having job offers withdrawn after having disclosed a mental health problem.”[1] Even though the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prevents people with mental illnesses from being discriminated against in the workplace, it happens every day. In fact, a survey of over 1300 people with mental illnesses found that 25% of them felt like they were discriminated against or avoided. This percentage was higher in industries such as law, banking, and insurance.[2] While the guidelines regarding mental illness in the workplace are clear, there are still many differences on how employees are treated based on their particular mental illness and the stigma that surrounds it; consequently, employment discrimination on the basis of disability disproportionately affects people with mental illnesses and psychiatric disorders.

A disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities as stated in the ADA. Employees or job applicants who have a mental illness that fits the ADA criteria are afforded legal protections against discrimination. These protections include the right to privacy, prohibition of differential treatment of disabled employees, and being provided an accommodation that does not create undue hardship for the employer.[3] However, employers do not have to hire people who cannot perform the job with a reasonable accommodation or whose mental illness poses a direct threat or safety risk. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is the federal agency that enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination, the employer must have objective evidence of inability to perform job duties without relying on myths or stereotypes about mental health conditions.[4]

One case that dealt with the issue of an employer relying on myths about mental illness is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Cottonwood Financial. A bipolar employee was fired from Cottonwood Financial in Washington State for requesting two weeks of leave following a mental breakdown. In the subsequent lawsuit, the Washington District Court ruled that the employer violated both the ADA and the Washington Law Against Discrimination. The Court noted that Cottonwood Financial’s multiple reasons for terminating the employee were based on discriminatory practices. The employee was awarded back wage and compensation for pain and suffering. In addition, Cottonwood Financial was mandated by the court to train personnel about anti-discrimination laws and compliance. William Tamayo, an EEOC attorney, said, “The court sent an important message today that employers can’t substitute fiction for facts when making employment decisions about disabled workers. Employers acting on outdated myths and fears about disabilities need to know that the EEOC will not shy away from taking ADA cases to trial to bring them into the 21st century.”[5] This case shows that discrimination due to the stigma surrounding mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder is not tolerated and that employers who do not provide reasonable accommodations will face legal consequences.

Mental illness is a common disability in the workplace. About 18% of workers in the United States, or 44 million adults, have stated that they live with a mental illness.3 Mental illnesses are diagnosed by psychologists and psychiatrists in accordance with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, more commonly known as DSM-5, the universal code for diagnosis of psychiatric disorders.[6] These disorders vary, and the National Institutes of Health estimates that of these people, 18% have an anxiety disorder, 9.5% have depression, 4% have ADHD, 2.6% have bipolar disorder, and 1% have schizophrenia.[7] Each type of mental illness positions itself differently in the workplace. As a result, the accommodations required vary. An employer must take this into account when thinking about how to provide employee accommodations. For example, a person with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which affects someone who has experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event,[8] may need accommodations such as a quiet space to work, flexible scheduling, or the presence of an emotional support animal.3 A different mental disorder, such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which drives someone to perform repetitive actions,[9] will require a different set of accommodations. These could include dividing assignments into smaller tasks, use of a checklist, or scheduled meetings with a supervisor to discuss job duties and work progress.3 These examples of accommodations are some that have been upheld as reasonable by the EEOC and the court system.

An employee must decide whether or not to disclose a psychiatric disability to the employer; if the choice is made to do so, what is the appropriate time to make a disclosure? The United States Department of Labor has developed some recommendations for youth with mental illnesses who are searching for their first jobs. There is no particular time during the employment process that is perfect for disclosing a disability, but an informed choice should be made about the appropriate step in which to make the disclosure. Those who opt for disclosure might do so during an interview, after receiving a job offer, or after beginning a job. In addition, disclosure of mental illness should be on a need-to-know basis and reasoning for disclosure should be mentioned as well. Overall, the most important things in this process are to be truthful and proactive.[10]

The EEOC has created guidelines for both employees and employers on how to handle mental illness disclosure and develop a plan that can benefit all parties. Employees with mental health conditions should begin by evaluating their illness with respect to their job and how it will affect their performance. They should ask themselves whether or not they can perform the job duties without any accommodations, and if not, what types of accommodations they should ask for. The employee should also be sure to ask for something specific and focus on the limitations of the mental illness rather than the specific diagnosis and symptoms. The information that the employee provides should focus on how specific job tasks may be impacted by his or her mental illness. Following these suggestions can ensure a more streamlined work experience for the employee.4

There are also several things that employers can do to make sure that an employee with a mental illness can be productive and perform appropriately. This is important because approximately 1 in 5 current employees work with a psychiatric disability. One thing that an employer can do is provide trainings to managers and supervisors that teach them to be receptive and respectful to people with disabilities. Often times, managers and supervisors are some of the first people an employee will approach when requesting an accommodation, and it is important to make sure that these people set the tone for disability inclusiveness. Another thing that employers can do is create a disability support group for employees who struggle with psychiatric disorders. This could be something as simple as the whole group having lunch together once a month, but it can be an avenue for people with mental illnesses to talk about their challenges in the workplace. Most importantly, an employer needs to think about building an environment of trust by making sure that there is no harassment or bullying, and that employees with mental illnesses are heard and helped when needed. These measures can help to ensure that employee talent is fully leveraged in the workplace.4

However, there are some barriers to employers fully embracing and accommodating people with mental illnesses in the workplace. One significant barrier is the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses and impairments. In a study conducted soon after the provision to protect people with mental illnesses in the workplace was enacted, researchers found that employers complied with the law due to a fear of being sued rather than because it was the right thing to do. This raises questions about social attitude change rather than simple behavior modification and the balance that we see today. The study also found that many employers tended to have negative attitudes towards people with mental disabilities, and some even went out of their way to make sure that the person was not hired.[11]

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides several resources for legal recourse to people with mental illnesses who feel they were discriminated against. The most common way to directly challenge employment practices under the ADA is to file a complaint with the EEOC. The EEOC is the federal agency that reviews claims under the ADA, and they will provide a determination as to the merit of the claim. Another way to take action is to file a claim with a State Fair Employment Practice Agency. Several states have laws similar to the ADA and use their own state agencies to enforce them. Lastly, people with mental illnesses can contact the Department of Labor to file a complaint if they have been denied leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).[12] All of these options provide a means to fight discrimination in the workplace.

The EEOC handled over 5,000 claims of discrimination on the basis of mental disability and won a combined total of $20 million in settlements in a single year.[13] Taking a broader point of view, researchers from the Virginia Commonwealth University analyzed over 400,000 cases of alleged employment discrimination from the EEOC’s Integrated Mission System database. This study, which was part of the National EEOC ADA Research Project, found that there was a 19.83% merit rate for mental illness allegations and a 23.39% merit rate for all other alleged ADA violations. This suggests two possibilities—either employment discrimination is less prevalent among people with mental illnesses or it is more difficult to prove.[14] EEOC investigators have agreed that cases involving employment discrimination due to mental illness are some of the most complex and expensive to handle, compared to other discrimination cases that involve physical health issues. This is due to lack of documentation or exacerbation of symptoms due to stress when someone suffers from mental illness.[15]

One particularly strong case that created excessive stress for a plaintiff with a psychiatric disorder was highlighted in a lawsuit filed against Voss Electric Company. This company fired a man with bipolar disorder, which causes mood shifts, changes in energy, and depressive/manic episodes.[16] The employee with bipolar disorder needed in-patient treatment, but rather than give him time off, Voss Electric Company fired him by taping a notice to his front door. This perpetuated his issues and made it difficult for him to recover. Voss Electric Company argued that the employee was not able to perform his job duties, but the EEOC argued that he should have been given medical leave. “Mentally disabled employees are protected under the ADA just as those who are physically disabled,” said Sidney B. Chesnin, lead trial counsel for the EEOC. “Disabled employees are entitled to consideration of a reasonable accommodation for their disability. By simply giving a worker a reasonable period of leave to adjust to a medical condition related to a disability, the employer can often pave the way for the return of a productive employee.” As a result, the employee won the case and received $91,250 as a settlement.[17] This case shows that discrimination due to mental illness is something that the EEOC will not tolerate, and it gives people with mental disabilities confidence that their cases matter.

For cases in which the EEOC determines no merit or the plaintiff is not content with the outcome, a lawsuit can be brought against the employer. However, in these cases, plaintiffs with mental illnesses tend to get poorer legal outcomes in discrimination suits in comparison to plaintiffs with physical disabilities. This is because juries often do not understand the impact of an “invisible disability” in the workplace and how it affects the employee.[18] Often times, it is also difficult is distinguish between mental illnesses and personality disorders. This makes job performance evaluations confusing to interpret for people who are not familiar with the difference between the two types of conditions.

Aside from legal remedies to discrimination due to mental illness, there are social implications of employment discrimination as well. A meta-analysis research study shows that unemployment rates are three to five times higher among people with a mental health problem compared to people who do not have a disability. The rate of unemployment often correlates with the severity of a person’s mental illness. For example, people with major depression have an unemployment rate of 40-60%, while people with schizophrenia have an employment rate of 80-90%. As a result, people with mental disabilities are one of the largest groups that rely on some form of public assistance, such as welfare.[19] For the few people with mental illnesses who have jobs, one in three report being told to take jobs lower than their qualifications and educational level, and one in five report facing employment discrimination, such as not receiving earned promotions, being refused a location transfer, and making lower than a fair wage for the position.[20]

The executive branch has taken an interest in the issue of employment discrimination due to mental disorders. In 2002, the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health issued a report titled Achieving the Promise: Transforming Mental Health Care in America. In this report, the commission provided several recommendations for improving governmental systems that are dedicated to helping people with mental illnesses secure employment. Some of these options include healthcare coverage for psychiatric prescription medications, vocational trainings tailored to skill sets, creation of secondary education options for interrupted educational careers, financial literacy training, and legal aid for those facing employment discrimination.15 While many of these resources have been developed and put into place by various governmental agencies and non-profit organizations, we still have a long way to go to make sure that the stigma surrounding mental illness does not result in employment discrimination.

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that “[s]ociety’s accumulated myths and fears about disability and disease are as handicapping as are the [limitations] that flow from actual impairment.”[21] Decreasing the stigma surrounding mental illness will allow barriers in employment to slowly break down, protecting the initial promise of the ADA and upholding America’s culture of meritocracy. Collaboration to address the interests and mutual gains of both employers and employees will result in stronger policies and laws. However, there is still a gap between what the law states and what actually occurs in the workplace; reducing this gap will lead to positive social change as we work towards building a culture of respect and inclusion in employment, society, and beyond.




[1] Quinn, C. (2009, January 20). Mental illness at work: Why employers need a change of mindset. Retrieved April 03, 2018, from

2 Reavley, N. J., & Jorm, A. F. (2015, October). Experiences of discrimination and positive treatment in people with mental health problems: Findings from an Australian national survey. Retrieved April 03, 2018, from

3 Northeast ADA Center. (n.d.). Mental health conditions in the workplace and the ADA. Retrieved April 03, 2018, from

4 EEOC. (n.d.). Depression, PTSD, & other mental health conditions in the workplace: Your legal rights. Retrieved April 03, 2018, from

5 EEOC. (2012, March 28). EEOC wins disability discrimination suit against payday lender ‘The Cash Store’. Retrieved April 05, 2018, from

6 American Psychiatric Association. (n.d.). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5). Retrieved April 05, 2018, from

7 Loy, B., & Whetzel, M. (2015, October 22). Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Mental Health Impairments. Retrieved April 03, 2018, from

8 National Institute of Mental Health. (2016, February). Post-traumatic stress disorder. Retrieved April 03, 2018, from

9 Gorrindo, T., & Parekh, R. (2017, July). What is obsessive-compulsive disorder? Retrieved April 03, 2018, from

10 U.S. Department of Labor. (n.d.). Youth, disclosure, and the workplace why, when, what, and how. Retrieved April 05, 2018, from

11 Scheid, T. L. (2005). Stigma as a barrier to employment: Mental disability and the Americans with disabilities act. International Journal Of Law And Psychiatry, 28(6), 670-690. doi:10.1016/j.ijlp.2005.04.003. Retrieved April 03, 2018, from

12 National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). Succeeding at work. Retrieved April 03, 2018, from

13 EEOC. (2016, December 12). EEOC issues publication on the rights of job applicants and employees with mental health conditions. Retrieved April 03, 2018, from

14 McMahon, B., Hurley, J. E., Monasterio, E. A., McMahon, B. T., & West, S. L. (2012). Merit determinants of ADA Title I allegations filed by persons with mental illness. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 36(3), 171. Retrieved April 03, 2018, from

15 Cook, J. A. (2006). Employment Barriers for Persons with Psychiatric Disabilities: Update of a Report for the President’s Commission. PSYCHIATRIC SERVICES, (10). 1391. Retrieved April 03, 2018, from

16 National Institute of Mental Health. (2016, April). Bipolar disorder. Retrieved April 03, 2018, from

17 EEOC. (2003, March 18). Worker with bipolar disorder to receive $91,000 in disability discrimination case settled by EEOC. Retrieved April 03, 2018, from

18 Hipes, C. (2016). Stereotypes, Gender, Power, and the Stigmatization of Workers with Mental Illness. Conference Papers — American Sociological Association, 1-34. Retrieved April 03, 2018, from

19 Callard, F., & Callard, F. (2012). Mental illness, discrimination, and the law. [electronic resource]: Fighting for social justice. Chichester, West Sussex; Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Retrieved April 04, 2018, from

20 Baldwin, M. L., Marcus, S. C., & Simone, J. D. (2010). Job loss discrimination and former substance use disorders. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 110(1-2), 1-7. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2010.01.018. Retrieved April 04, 2018, from,

21 Brennan, W. (n.d.). School Bd. of Nassau County v. Arline, 480 U.S. 273 (1987). Retrieved April 05, 2018, from

Virtual Currency, the Government, and a Race to Own Buying

The recent popularity of virtual currencies has detracted from their intended use. Instead of acting as a decentralized currency, tokens such as Bitcoin and Ethereum have been utilized as investment opportunities. However, as the crypto-mania dies down, the potential application of virtual currency must be reexamined and reconciled with our current financial system. This paper aims to explain the transition from currency as we knew it to this virtual currency, and the political implications of such a transition. This paper will first outline currency, both traditional and virtual, before turning to discuss the difficulties in implementing virtual currency. Then, it will consider three different government approaches to the new currencies. Finally, the paper will end with a discussion of the patentability of virtual currency technology.

Currency, unlike money, does not have any intrinsic value. The U.S. Dollar does not have a value beyond a determination set by the government and markets, whereas money, such as gold, has a value beyond its market price. For centuries, global currencies relied on the gold standard for this very reason. For example, the U.S. Dollar had a set value in gold, and until 1971 the Dollar could be exchanged for its gold value.[1]  With the elimination of the gold standard, current economies have transitioned to fiat currencies. A fiat currency is backed only by the full faith and credit of the issuing state. Thus, a currency is only valuable to the extent that the market trusts the currency. Despite these varying states, currency continues to three critical purposes.[2]  The first is as a store of value, where one pound of iron, for example, can be exchanged into currency and then re-exchanged at a later date. Following, the second purpose is as a medium of exchange, through which people can buy and sell from one another. Lastly, currency serves as a unit of account, where goods and services are based on a set value and not relative to other goods and services.

In general, digital currency also seeks to satisfy these criteria. Virtual currency, a form of digital currency, is the virtual representation of economic value.[3]  This differs from traditional currency in that virtual currency is not available in tangible ‘note’ form. While current banking maintains account balances and credit card transactions without any paper exchanging hands, account balances and credit card transactions are also convertible into paper form. In addition, virtual currencies, unlike traditional currencies, do not require a third party (such as a bank) to mediate transactions. Instead, some utilize blockchain technology. The blockchain serves as a public ledger, where transactions are grouped into ‘blocks’ and verified by the network of users.[4] While the intricacies of virtual currencies are interesting and expansive, the larger integration of them into the economy may pose a greater obstacle.

The difficulty with virtual currency lies in its rogue nature, where the three main purposes of currency face obstacles. First, virtual currency as a medium of exchange faces issues due to its lack of legal tender status.[5] Since the currencies are not validated by any state, their use is at the discretion of transacting parties. A bookseller in Boston can just as well refuse or accept Bitcoins for a purchase. Thus widespread adoption is limited until such currencies are guaranteed across the economy.

Also, currencies such as Bitcoin are unreliable as a unit of account. A party wishing to sell a good is unlikely to rely on a currency with such a volatile nature. One Bitcoin, for example, reached a price high just above $19,000 in early December; and, four months later, it was sitting around $8,300.[6] Despite the extreme price fluctuations, virtual currencies can participate in market exchange pricing, which tracks the relative exchange rates between a virtual currency and a more traditional one, such as the Dollar. The benefit of market exchange pricing for a unit of account allows a virtual currency to be understood relative to a more well-known tool. However, until price volatility is maintained, the institutional adoption of virtual currencies seems unlikely.

Lastly, some virtual currencies maintain a unique advantage due to their finite supply. As a store of value, a finite supply of a currency ensures that a single token or bill is not reduced in value over time by inflation.[7] Yet, the finite supply also makes market inequalities possible, where the possibility of future scarcity may motivate some to treat the currency more as an investment than a store of value.[8]  Additionally, a common concern surrounding the currencies is their potential for fraud and abuse. Before the recent spike in popularity, virtual currencies were commonly used in questionable transactions, such as on Silk Road, which was an online marketplace for drugs and other illegal goods and services. A virtual currency called Monero markets itself by claiming it is “private” and “untraceable.”[9] The lack of transparency lends itself to possibilities for criminal activity, such as money laundering and purchase of illegal goods and services. Also, since virtual currencies must be stored online in a virtual wallet, there is the risk of cyber theft.[10] Given these risks amid widespread popularity of virtual currencies, governments have sought to regulate, and in some cases ban, this new currency.

The government has limited ability to ban virtual currency. A state may criminalize the use, sale and/or possession of the currency; however, a government faces difficulty in enforcing such laws. China has made Bitcoin illegal, citing concerns over its decentralized nature, the limited quantity of Bitcoins, that the currency’s major functions are not geographically restricted and are anonymous, and that the currency does not have legal tender status.[11] The concerns raised by China reinforce the rogue nature of the currency, where there is no central authority accountable or regulations in place to verify the users. The lack of accountability undermines the role of the government in protecting the rights of citizens. Russia, in a mix of restriction and freedom, has allowed the possession of virtual currencies, but previously outlawed their use for transactions, insisting that transactions are only valid using the Ruble.[12] There is, however, current legislation pending in the Duma which aims to legalize virtual currencies in the coming months. In the U.S., virtual currency is legal. However, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) categorizes virtual currency as property.[13]  Given the varying treatment of virtual currency by countries, it is difficult to come to any global understanding or determination. However, companies and individuals are surging ahead, attempting to patent the myriad opportunities in this new financial realm.

The opportunity to patent virtual currencies seems like a modern-day gold rush; however, the new intellectual realm has its limitations. The patentability of an idea was tested in the 2014 Supreme Court decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank.[14]  The case set two important limitations on new intellectual property patents: a party cannot patent an abstract idea, and a patent cannot simply take a practice and apply it to computers.[15] Additionally, the idea must be “non-obvious,” which is determined by a legal test.[16] Given these limitations, corporations and individuals are attempting to patent new utilizations of virtual currency and the underlying mechanisms.

Virtual currency and related patents have skyrocketed in recent years, where the blockchain and related technologies seem promising for businesses. Facebook has an approved patent concerning virtual credits.[17]  The patent covers creating virtual tokens, their relative redemption value to real world currencies, and a method to keep track of it all. Bank of America is also looking to the virtual realm, where it is seeking to patent a virtual currency exchange system that streamlines currency conversion.[18]  Additionally, Paypal, in a race for future virtual currency stake, has submitted a patent to expedite the transaction of virtual currency.[19] Bitcoin, for example, is plagued by slow transaction times given the high volume and verification system. If PayPal is able to patent and realize the faster transaction system, they may gain an advantage in the future marketplace.

The focus on virtual currencies follows the discussion of an economic transition from traditional currencies to virtual currencies. While other applications of blockchain and related technology are promising innovation in a variety of sections, such as healthcare and voting, the implementation of virtual currency seems to be the fundamental system on which our society operates. While the coming years in digital currency remain uncertain, the possibility and seemingly eventual transition to an internet-driven economy raise these concerns which must be addressed before virtual currencies are truly viable.


Works Cited

[1] “Nixon Shock.” Department of State, Office of the Historian, Accessed 5 Apr. 2018. While gold-backed currency was stopped in the 1970s, a bill (H.R. 5404)advocating a return to the gold standard is currently in the House of Representatives.

[2] “Asmunson, Irena and Cyeda Oner, “What is Money?” IMF, Accessed 5 Apr. 2018

[3] Abboushi, Suhail. “Global Virtual Currency – Brief Overview.” Journal of Applied Business and Economics, vol. 19, 6, 2017, pp. 10-18, at 10.

[4] Nofer, M., Gomber, P., Hinz, O., & Schiereck, D. “Blochain.” Business & Information Systems Engineering, vol. 59, 3, 2017, pp. 183-187, at 183-184.

[5] Ciaian, P., Rajcaniova, M., & Kancs, d’A. “The Digital Agenda of Virtual Currencies: Can Bitcoin Become a Global Currency?” Information Systems and e-Business Management, 2016, pp. 883-919, at 891.                                      

[6] “Charts.” Coinbase, Accessed 15 Apr. 2018.

[7] Ciaian 895.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Get Monero. Monero, Accessed 10 Apr. 2018.

[10] Turpin, Jonathan B. “Bitcoin: The Economic Case for a Global, Virtual Currency Operating in an Unexplored Legal Framework.” Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, vol. 21, no. 1, 2014, pp. 335-368, at 385-386.

[11] Artemov, N. M., Arzumanova, L. L., Sitnik, A. A., & Zenin, S. S. “Regulation and Control of Virtual Currency: to be or not to be…” Journal of Advanced Research in Law and Economics, vol. 8, no. 5, 2017, pp. 1425-1435, at 1431-1432.

[12] Id. at 1432.

[13] Lambert, Elizabeth E. “The Internal Revenue Service and Bitcoin: a Taxing Relationship.” Virginia Tax Review, vol. 35, no. 1, 2015, pp. 88-115, at 99.

[14] Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank, 573 U.S. (2014).

[15] Ibid.

[16] Gatto, James G. “Patent Strageties for Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain Technology.” SheppardMullin, 2018, at 3.

[17] Morgenstern, Jared, et. al. Creation, Redemption, and Accounting in a Virtual Currency System. United States Patent US 8,255,297. United States Patent and Trademark Office. 28 Aug. 2012.

[18] Ronca, James G., et. al. Cryptocurrency Transformation System. United States Patent Application US 9,836,790. United States Patent and Trademark Office. 5 Dec. 2017.

[19] Tian, Cheng, et. al. Expedited Virtual Currency Transaction System. United States Patent Application US United States Patent and Trademark Office. 1 Mar. 2018.

Gender Quotas: Reasonable or Radical?

“Political Affirmative Action” is the moniker a New York Times writer gave gender quotas (Rampbell 2009, 1). Yet, this name fails to convey the importance of incentivizing government and businesses to begin including women in their leadership. Women are half of the world’s population, which necessitates more representation in governments and boardrooms than what we currently have, with women comprising only 27% of Congress. This places the United States in 101st place globally for the percentage of female representation in government (“Women in Government” 2018). Despite the social backlash against gender quotas, such as quota implementation and the probable impossibility of them ever being carried out, implementing quotas can help bring more women and their intellectual capital into influential positions, inspire younger women to strive for those positions and help make those workplaces more welcoming to women who seek them in the future. First, I will explain the value of women in politics and business, which will give context to why quotas bringing in more women will benefit those institutions overall. Second, I will examine how quotas could normalize the presence women in those fields, which could result in changing the existing cultures in those fields, and inspiring younger women to enter those fields. Third, I will explore the concept of quota stigmatization, and how it ignores systemic inequalities against women that gender quotas are supposed to help mitigate. Fourth, I will address the practical reality of implementing gender quotas in the United States and the low likelihood of it ever happening. Lastly, I conclude with the reminder that gender quotas are only one part of the solution, and much more needs to be done to achieve more female representation in both Congress and the boardroom.

Women involved in politics and business offer different perspectives, thus contributing to the diversity of knowledge on various issues, as well as dismantling the stigma of politics and business being “a man’s game”. Henderson and Jeydel (2010) concluded in their study that the presence of women is important in government and business as they draw attention to overlooked women’s issues and reinforce the social idea that women can achieve high power positions in those areas (Henderson and Jeydel 2010, 35). Pearson and Dancey (2011) expanded on Henderson and Jeydel’s (2010) by examining one-minute floor speeches (Pearson and Dancey 2011, 497).

They found that congresswomen in both parties are significantly more likely than men to discuss women, enhancing women’s representation (Pearson and Dancey 2011, 493). Simon and Palmer (2010) seemingly disputed this with their study that concluded that there was no significant difference in the voting scores or roll call scores of female or male members of House (Simon and Palmer 2010, 230). However, they also conceded that women’s legislative agendas were different as they focused more on women’s issues (Simon and Palmer 2010, 245). Women bring much needed awareness to women’s issues, and are necessary in our political and financial institutions. More women brought by quotas can intensify this effect and make women’s issues in politics and business a more widespread and openly discussed topic. Additionally, while descriptive representation may not necessarily result in better substantive representation, Pearson and Dancey (2011) theorized that the rationale behind the greater likelihood for women acting on behalf of women are women’s common socialization, experiences and perspectives that create a sense of mutuality among women (Pearson and Dancey 2011, 255). Therefore, it is likely that women are the best people to represent women’s issues since they have common ground in their experience, which brings attention to problems that are often ignored.

In addition to raising awareness on overlooked issues, quotas can help normalize women in government and business, inspiring new generations to those positions to further integrate women in those workplaces, and combating the idea that women cannot succeed in these fields. Campbell and Wolbrecht (2006) found that the more women politicians are made visible by national news coverage, the more likely adolescent women indicate an interest in engaging in politics (Campbell and Wolbrecht 2006, 233). Quotas can help provide a wider sample of women to serve as achievable examples to which adolescent women can aspire.  The societal influence that quotas can help strengthen, could also help with the major problem that Lawless and Fox (2012) identify as the reason women do not win office: they do not run (Lawless and Fox 2012, 30). One reason is the “gendered psyche”, when women doubt whether they are qualified to run or whether they would even win (Lawless and Fox 2012, 10). The “gendered psyche” is a manifestation of the idea of politics and business being exclusively male fields, where only men can succeed, as well as the lack of encouragement from family and colleagues, and simultaneous discouragement from society, for women to run. However, quotas can bring more women, who can serve as role models of success,  into those fields. Furthermore, when those women are in powerful positions in government and the corporate world, they could be more sensitive to the particular issues that women face while trying to get to those positions. They then can help establish better pipelines or a more inclusive work culture to welcome women into government and business, which can help further combat the self-defeatist nature of the gendered psyche.

Quotas can also help change the work environment of government and business when women are finally in office. The competitive, cut-throat nature of politics and finance does not appeal to women, as Niderle and Vesterlund (2007) found (Niderle and Vesterlund 2007, 1067). Women tend to avoid competition, and prefer a more cooperative environment, while men tend to intentionally seek competition (Niderle and Vesterlund 2007, 1069). Having more women in office could possibly foster a more collegial environment, a culture more aligned with their preferences, which could help all the women perform better in their fields. However, there is always the risk of quota stigmatization, which ignores the social and institutional inequalities that women face. Dahlerup (2007) discusses quota stigmatization, where women are perceived as less qualified or are stigmatized based on the assumption that they received their position solely due to their gender (Dahlerup 2007, 245). Nonetheless, the more women that enter those professions, the more their conception of women being less qualified would most likely change, as the concept of women holding executive positions is normalized (Dahlerup 2007, 250). Furthermore, quota stigmatization is based on the assumption that men and women have equal opportunities, resources and encouragement to pursue careers in government and business. Quota stigmatization ignores the social and institutional inequalities that exist for women when trying to enter, and continue to progress in those fields. For instance, Anzia and Berry’s (2011) study found that only the best, most over- performing congresswomen are elected to office, congresswomen secure 9% more federal discretionary funds, and sponsor and cosponsor more bills than their male counterparts (Anzia and Berry 2011, 478). Therefore, women have to put in more effort to keep their seats than men. Quotas’ possible effect of normalizing women in these fields can aid in alleviating some of the extreme pressure women feel in keeping their seats due to sexism, by making women in those fields more commonplace and reducing the intense standards for keeping their positions.

More opposition arises when one considers the practical issues with implementing a gender quota in the United States, and deciding what percentage the quota should be. The exact percentage that the quota should be set as, could differ for each chamber of Congress or each area of the country. However, it ultimately should incentivize political parties and the country to elect more women than we have currently, which is not representative of the amount of women in the country, nor the amount of women that vote. Dahlerup (2007) discussed the intense merit- based culture of the United States, which would make it unlikely that gender quotas would ever be implemented (Dahlerup 2007, 259). However, this does not detract from the potential benefits of a gender quota that are demonstrated in other countries. Additionally, as more highly industrialized, European countries such as Germany, implement quotas for boardrooms, the United States could one day follow the trend. Norris and Inglehart (2010) found that the highest rates of women in government are generally correlated with high levels of development, secularization and egalitarian attitudes towards women (Norris and Inglehart 2010, 128). There is hope that the United States will come to gender parity eventually, however, a gender quota could aid in achieving such equality sooner.

Quotas are not the only answer to achieving more female representation in government and business; attention should also be focused on other institutional and social reform that is more conducive to women’s lives. If there are no women willing to run, the gender quota system will not even be possible. In addition to gendered psyche, Lawless and Fox (2012) discuss two other problems that prevent women from running (Lawless and Fox 2012, 167-170). Traditional family roles for women take up time for married women and result in less encouragement to run for office or engage in political discussions by parents (Lawless and Fox 2012, 167). Masculinized ethos causes parties to recruit less women, creates a sexist corporate culture and causes fewer colleagues to encourage women to run for office (Lawless and Fox 2012, 167). Quotas at the recruitment levels can help mitigate the problem of masculinized ethos, yet these problems are social manifestations of sexism that are not going to be solved solely with quotas. There needs to be further institutional change to make government and businesses more accommodating for familial responsibilities, to aid in reducing the effect of traditional family roles. This could mean allowing for part-time work, working from home and reducing the stigma against taking maternity and paternity leave. Likewise, both families and colleagues need to begin encouraging their female colleagues and children to become engaged in politics and run for office or strive for the high positions in the corporate ladder. We need to combat the social notion that women do not have a place in these fields and encourage them to run, because, as according to Brooks’ (2013) research, they are not generally disadvantaged by their gender in the eyes of the public (Brooks 2013, 30).

Ultimately, despite quota stigmatization and the low likelihood of quotas ever being a reality in America, there are multiple benefits to having a gender quota. Gender quotas bring more women into government and business, which results in the sharing of more diverse opinions, which translates into better policy and more sound financial decisions. Furthermore, the normalization of women in those high power positions can help galvanize more women to enter those fields, change the culture there to be more conducive to the way women perform work and change media bias for politicians. It can also help mitigate some social inequalities present in those positions once women are in positions of power to enact change. However, despite the improbability of gender quotas being implemented, gender quotas have substantial benefits that could benefit women in society, making them a worthy proposal to consider at the very least. Their possible impact can serve as a beginning in addressing the systematic inequality that women still face in the workplace. We must also address the lack of social support for women considering running for office or striving for the high power management position, that prevent women from even entering the race. We, as a society, must address the deep, systematic institutional and social biases that make women doubt their own abilities, or risk losing their talents.


Works Cited

Anzia, Sarah F., and Christopher R. Berry. “The Jackie (and Jill) Robinson effect: Why Do Congresswomen

Outperform Congressmen?” American Journal of Political Science 55, no. 3 (2011): 478-493.

Brooks, Deborah Jordan. He Runs, She Runs: Why Gender Stereotypes Do Not Harm Women Candidates. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013.

Campbell, David E., and Christina Wolbrecht. “See Jane run: Women Politicians as Role Models for Adolescents.”

Journal of Politics 68, no. 2 (2006): 233-247.

Dahlerup, Drude. “Electoral gender quotas: Between Equality of Opportunity and Equality of Result.”

Representation 43, no. 2 (2007): 73-92.

Dahlerup, Drude. “Will Gender Balance in Politics Come by Itself?” In Kellerman, Barbara, and Deborah Rhode.

Women and Leadership: The State of Play and Strategies for Change. John Wiley & Sons, 2007.

Henderson, Sarah, and Alana S. Jeydel. Women and Politics in a Global World. NY, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Lawless, Jennifer L., and Richard Logan. Fox. It Still Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office. New

York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Niederle, Muriel, and Lise Vesterlund. “Do Women Shy Away from Competition? Do Men Compete Too Much?”

The Quarterly Journal of Economics 122, no. 3 (2007): 1067-1101.

Pearson, Kathryn, and Logan Dancey. “Speaking for the Underrepresented in the House of Representatives: Voicing

Women’s Interests in a Partisan Era.” Politics & Gender 7, no.4 (2011): 493-519.

Rampbell, Catherine. “Political Affirmative Action: Quotas for Women.” New York Times, January 12, 2009.

Accessed November 19, 2017. women/?_r=0.

Simon, Dennis M., and Barbara Palmer. “The Roll Call Behavior of Men and Women in the US House of

Representatives, 1937–2008.” Politics & Gender 6, no. 2 (2010): 225-246.

Women in Government (2018, April 24). Retrieved May 22, 2018, from