France wants more women at the head of large companies

Posted on Jan 25, 2021 at 6:16 am

We can again recruit men for a board of directors, blows a head hunter. We are no longer instructed to find a woman first. In these supervisory bodies of SBF 120 companies, parity is now very real. Women occupy 45.8% of board positions, against 12.5% ​​in 2010, according to Ethics & Boards, a firm that scrutinizes the governance of listed companies.

This progress, they owe it to the Copé-Zimmermann law, promulgated on January 27, 2011. This text set a quota of 40% of women directors by 2017, with a first step of 20% in 2014. A real success . In 2021, more than twenty companies have at least 50% of women directors, Sodexo, Kering, Ipsos or CGG even showing a feminization rate of 60%.

As a result, France stands out today at the international level. It takes first place on the podium, just ahead of Norway, which in 2003 chose to act by force by requiring that the largest companies have 40% of women on their boards within five years.

The only downside is that the expected “runoff” of this parity to the management bodies of companies has not taken place. Women still remain at the gates of real economic power. The executive committees (comex) or the management committees (codir) are still largely made up of men. Women represent only 22% of the workforce in the executive committees within the SBF 120, against 7% in 2009. Only one woman heads a CAC 40 group, Catherine MacGregor at Engie. She replaced Isabelle Kocher, who landed last February. In the SBF 120, they are barely 10 at the head of a company, according to Ethics & Boards, but only three concentrate all the powers: Christel Bories, CEO of Eramet, Marie Cheval, CEO of Carmila and Stéphane Pallez, at la Française des Jeux.

Without quotas no results

Without quotas, therefore, no results. In the absence of firm legal constraints, strategies of cooptation between men are perpetuated and the sharing of responsibilities stops at the gates of power. The government is considering resorting to quotas again, this time in the governing bodies. Bruno Le Maire, Minister of the Economy, is in favor. ” The board of directors must not be the tree that hides the forest […]. Now, we must be able to move up a gear and therefore enter into a more ambitious logic which involves quotas ”, He indicated on January 18 to the National Assembly, during a hearing within the framework of a mission of information on economic and professional equality.

Last year, the High Council for Equality (HCE) recommended that the government reach an ambitious objective, i.e. a threshold of 40% of female leaders in a executive committee (or codir) of more than eight members by 2024 ( with a step at 20% in 2022).

Less regular renewal

For its part, the Medef, the employers’ organization, warns: quotas are possible in the boards of directors because the latter are called upon to be renewed approximately every four years. This is not the case for senior executives. Medef also recalls that the executive committees do not have their own legal existence and that, consequently, it is not possible to impose quotas in bodies that are not defined.

For her part, Elisabeth Borne, Minister of Labor, is convinced that it is necessary to act on the pool of future management or executive committees. But the project is still under study within the government. The debate revolves around the perimeter: should quotas be introduced for “senior executives”, a notion of the labor code? Or to “managers”, those who occupy the 10% of positions with the greatest responsibility? The issue also relates to the percentage of women – is a threshold of 30% sufficient? – and on its horizon (2025, 2027, 2030?). Finally, should all sectors – whatever their rate of feminization – be subject to the same constraints?

The 30% club

In the markets, investors are already demanding quotas from the companies in which they invest. In November, six large French management companies (including Amundi, AXA IM, LBP, Sycomore, Mirova and Ostrum AM) which manage nearly 3,000 billion euros in assets, called on the large French companies to establish a plan of action to reach at least 30% of women in their executive committees by 2025.

But, among parliamentarians, some brake with all four irons. ” We should first apply the laws that already exist. The Génisson law of 2001 on professional equality [qui affirme le principe d’égalité dans le champ professionnel, NDLR] is not respected », Indicates one of them. Politically, doing without quotas will be difficult. In early January, Germany introduced a bill to make it compulsory for at least one woman to be on the boards of German listed companies with more than three members.

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