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EQUALITY

Gender quotas boost equality at French firms

Thanks to a new quota law, some 25.1 percent of directors on the boards of the 17 top French companies are now women, a higher ratio than in the United States, a new study showed.

Gender quotas boost equality at French firms
File photo: Simon McConico/iStockhphoto

“France has raised the bar for other countries interested in opening up corporate board rooms to women,” said Irene Natividad at the Washington-based Corporate Women Directors International (CWDI) which conducted the study.

The study shows that France has overtaken the United States in placing women on the boards of the world's 200 largest companies. 

The average percentage of female directors among Fortune Global 200 companies, the world's largest by revenues, came to a modest 15 percent. Thanks to a new French quota law, the number of women directors in 17 top French companies equated to 25.1 percent, while only 20.9 percent of board members were women at the 57 largest US companies.

In a similar study released in late 2011, France beat a timetable set by the quota law taking effect in January of that year, that requires publicly listed companies to make 40 percent of their directors women by 2017.

The law set a halfway point of three years to reach 20 percent, and France had 20.1 percent. That marked substantial progress from 7.2 percent representation in 2004, when the CWDI first tracked the data.

“The dramatic increase in the number of women now serving on the boards of French companies shows that it is possible to do this at a quicker pace, as long as there's a plan to do so,” Natividad said.

Norway initiated the board room quota drive in 2003 and reached its 40 percent mandate in 2008.

Five other European countries now have government quotas on female directors in public companies: Belgium, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. Outside Europe, Malaysia is the sole country with such a quota.

Ten other countries have quotas for women on the boards of government-owned companies, bringing to 18 the number of countries with some kind of quota.

The improved numbers worldwide also were driven by the inclusion of gender or board diversity language in the corporate governance code in several European countries, the CWDI said.

Finland led that drive and now has 22 percent of board seats held by women, in an initiative that has spread to other continents, the group said, calling it “a very popular strategy for countries wanting to avoid quotas.”

“There are now 17 countries who have adopted this initiative,” the research group said.

The data made clear that government quotas and gender diversity recommendations spurred women's acceptance to the boardroom.

“Quotas work,” said Natividad. “Inserting gender diversity into corporate governance codes works.

“What doesn't work is assuming that women will rise to board seats 'naturally,' and therefore do nothing.”

The world's top three economies — the United States, China and Japan — are home to 104 of the Fortune 200 companies, but had the lowest percentage increases in women-held board seats.

“None of these countries have concerted proactive strategies to improve the numbers of women directors in their respective countries,” the CWDI said.

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SEX

Paris fined €90k for having ‘too many women in charge’

Paris city authorities have been fined for employing too many women in senior positions, a decision mocked as 'absurd' by mayor Anne Hidalgo on Tuesday.

Paris fined €90k for having 'too many women in charge'
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo says she will deliver the fine for being 'too feminist' in person. Photo: AFP

The fine of €90,000 was demanded by France's public service ministry on the grounds that Paris city hall had broken national rules on gender parity in its 2018 staffing.

“I am happy to announce that we have been fined,” Hidalgo told a city council meeting, adding she had been filled with “joy” when she learned of the penalty.

Hidalgo said she was faulted because 11 women and only five men were named to management positions in city hall in 2018, meaning that 69 percent of the appointments went to women.

“The management of the city hall has, all of a sudden, become far too feminist,” laughed the Socialist, who was re-elected for a new term at the helm of Paris last year.

According to the text of the ruling cited by Le Monde daily, city hall violated a rule dating to 2013, which stipulates that one sex should not account for more than 60 of nominations to management positions.

Hidalgo said that she would take the cheque for the fine to the government in person, along with her deputy mayors and all the women working for her.

Taking a more serious tone, she added: “This fine is obviously absurd, unfair, irresponsible and dangerous”, adding that women in France should be promoted with “vigour because the lag everywhere in France is still very great”.

“Yes, to one day achieve parity, we must speed up the tempo and ensure that more women are appointed than men,” she said.

Responding on Twitter, France's Public Service Minister Amelie de Montchalin from the ruling TREM party acknowledged that the fine had been levied for 2018.

Since then the “absurd” rule on parity in management had been repealed, she noted.

“I want the fine paid by Paris for 2018 to finance concrete actions to promote women in the public service. I invite you to the ministry to discuss them!,” she said in a message to Hidalgo. 

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