Thu, 24 Jun 2021

France's lower house has voted in favour of a bill that would require companies with more than 1,000 employees to have women in 40 percent of their top management posts by 2030.

The National Assembly voted for "real economic and professional equality" between men and women as part of a bill brought by President Emmanuel Macron's LREM majority.

Under the proposed law, companies employing more than 1,000 staff would to have to have at least 30 percent women among "senior managers and members of management bodies" by 2027, and 40 percent by 2030.

The companies will initially have to publish yearly data on "the possible gaps in representation" between women and men at senior management level. Failure to reach the goals could lead to fines.

France's gender equality minister, Elisabeth Moreno, described the vote as "an historic step for our country".

Slow progress

The draft law comes a decade after the Cope-Zimmermann law which imposed a 40 percent quota for women on company boards. Currently, 44 percent of directors are women. But women's representation in executive management remains low, at just 22 percent.

According to the Ethics & Boards Institute, France will not achieve parity for another 33 years. The introduction of quotas would speed up the process, Moreno said.

"The quota sometimes raises concerns but it is necessary to make up for a delay linked to inequalities deeply rooted in mentalities," she told MPs, adding that society remains "patriarchal, sexist and discriminatory in many respects".

Breaking the glass ceiling

The proposed law was voted unanimously by all 61 MPs present, regardless of political affiliation.

Socialist MP Marie-Noëlle Battistel said she would have liked "to go faster and further", and Mathilde Panot from the hard-left France Unbowed would have preferred a "more ambitious" text. But both gave their support.

On the right, Laurence Trastour-Isnart (Republicains) stressed that the text "allows us to continue working on equality between men and women".

Marie-Pierre Rixain (LREM), chair of the Assembly's women's rights delegation, and who brought the bill before parliament, was encouraged by the cross-party endorsement.

"The glass ceiling remains a reality," she said. "Women should be recognised as economic entities in their own right."

Unnecessary interference

Some in the business community expressed reservations.

Geoffroy Roux de Bezieux, head of the bosses union (Medef), said there was no need for an extension to the 2011 law.

"In an SAS (simplified joint stock company), which represents the majority of companies in France today, you are not obliged to have an executive committee," he told journalists last week. "Everyone does what they want.

"We are interfering in the definition of the governing body, which is in the hands of the company."

Under the proposed law, companies that fail to comply with the 40 percent rule in the two years following its introduction in 2030 risk a fine amounting to 1 percent of their wage bill.

De Bezieux said he was opposed to any financial sanction. "Name and shame is more than enough for large companies that will be singled out when the quotas are published," he said.

Beyond quotas

In addition to quotas, the draft law includes measures to fight gender bias such as introducing an "equality index" in higher education institutions along with more mixed juries and making it easier for women to secure loans with the BpiFrance public bank.

Fifty-five years after women gained the right to have their own bank account, the legislation includes an obligation for wages and social benefits to be paid into a bank account "of which the employee is the holder or joint holder".

Another measure addresses the 85 percent of single-parent families in France headed by women, providing them with training and reserved places in nurseries. It would also be easier for all women to remote work at the end of their pregnancy.

The bill now goes to the Senate and the government hopes to see it passed by the end of the year.

Figures on gender diversity in corporate management

France ranks first in the world for gender diversity on boards of directors, with 46 percent women, ahead of The Netherlands (39 percent) and Norway (37 percent).

Only 12 companies in the SBF 120 (index of top 120 publicly-traded companies) are chaired by a woman (two in the CAC 40); 11 of them have a female CEO (one in the CAC 40).

Women hold 22 percent of positions on the executive or management committees of SBF 120 companies. France is in 6th position, behind Norway (28 percent), Sweden (26 percent) and the US (25 percent).

Forty-three percent of SBF 120 companies have fewer than 20 percent women on their executive committees, 11 percent have none.

Originally published on RFI

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