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Should more women be on corporate boards in France?

It is no secret that there is gender inequality in many areas, including in the work world where talk of a “glass ceiling” is a reality for many women on the corporate ladder. But things may start to get better for women in France, a traditional bastion of male dominance. However, it is better not take things at face value and look at the pros and cons of policy.

In their May 6th, 2010 edition, The Economist published a piece about just this issue entitled “La vie en rose: French companies get serious about putting women in the boardroom.”. Excerpts below (with my emphasis in bold).
What do YOU think?

…MOST French bosses have little time for a new law, now going through parliament, which would compel listed companies to lift the proportion of women on their boards to 40% by 2016. Xavier Fontanet, chief executive of Essilor, an eyewear firm, has quoted Charles de Gaulle as saying, “One may not command without having obeyed.” His point is that few women have had the 30 years or so of experience climbing the corporate ladder that a good director requires.

Nonetheless, the government is determined to make France the second country with a compulsory quota for women in the boardroom. (Norway was the first.) At the start of the year women occupied just 11% of the total of around 580 board seats at France’s biggest 40 firms. Now bosses will have to find as many as 170 new female directors in six years, according to OFG Research. “We are looking for women to fill every seat vacated by a man,” says Diane Segalen, vice-chairman of CTPartners, a headhunting firm in Paris….Some recent appointments have certainly raised eyebrows…

…In March Dassault Aviation, a manufacturer of fighter planes and corporate jets, said it would nominate Nicole Dassault, the 79-year-old wife of Serge Dassault, its controlling shareholder, to its board. Mrs Dassault has little hands-on business experience. LVMH has nominated Bernadette Chirac, the 76-year-old wife of the former French president…Companies with no family controlling shareholder, to be sure, will be expected to propose more qualified candidates. But finding them is not always easy….

….Because companies must find a lot of them in a short time, some women will gather many board seats. One female director, indeed, has had seven offers since January. A perverse effect of the quota, therefore, says Mr Gomez, may be to reduce rather than increase board diversity….”

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