Quotas may be needed to get more women surgeons, college president says

Authors: Abi Rimmer 

Publication date:  01 Jul 2016

Quotas may be needed to increase the number of women working in surgery if other interventions fail, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, Clare Marx, has said.

Speaking at the Inspiring Future Female Leaders conference in London on 28 June, Marx discussed the steps the college was taking to encourage more women into the specialty. She said that the college had launched a female only emerging leaders fellowship scheme that gave 15 women access to the activities of the college council and to its associated committees.

When asked whether having a scheme just for women was a form of positive discrimination, Marx said, “You call it positive discrimination; I would describe it as a programme of allowing people to see that they fit.” She added, “Yes it’s positive but what’s wrong with being positive in life?”

Marx said the question that should be asked was whether there was a need for quotas for women. In 2015 the Labour peer Mervyn Davies, a former trade minister, set a target of 33% for female board representation across the FTSE 350 index companies by 2020.[1]

Marx said, “I would say that in the Scandinavian countries that have quotas they have made it to the Davies 30% mark very quickly. In this country we heard it was going to be 70 years before we made that Davies [target] without quotas. I think quotas are quite difficult; we’ve seen it in some of the top slicing of the women’s training programmes about 20 to 25 years ago—they weren’t entirely satisfactory.”

She added, “I think rather than quotas I’d like to see positive things first but if it really fails then sometime, someplace we may have to talk about quotas.”


  1. Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Women on boards: 5 year summary (Davies review). Oct 2015. [Link] .

Abi Rimmer BMJ Careers


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