Second wave of feminization
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June 28, 2021
Executive Summary
Reynolds Associates Consultant Florence Ferraton on the urgent need for women to be able to access operational positions.

Excerpt from the article originally published in Challenges

A proposed bill is on track to set new quotas for women in management bodies. It is expected to come into effect before the end of the year.

A unanimous vote on the first reading in the National Assembly and a parliamentary process that could be completed by the end of the year or even before the summer: since May 12th, the bill by LREM* MP Marie-Pierre Rixain "aimed at speeding up economic and professional equality" is right on track. "A much-needed boost" explained the Minister for Gender Equality Elisabeth Moreno. "The latest appointments at CAC 40 companies were almost all men," said Florence Ferraton, managing director of Russell Reynolds Associates France. The recent choice of Antoine de Saint-Affrique as head of Danone and Nicolas Hieronimus at L'Oréal are two prime examples. 

This is a great relief for the women's networks that ardently supported this text. "I was a little worried, but the movement is up and running," confided Marie-Christine Mahéas, coordinator of the Gender Equality watchdog group that includes the top people from major groups such as Sodexo, Arkéa, Engie and SNCF. Not counting these early supporters, employers were generally opposed to the proposal. At issue was Article 7, which introduces new quotas in companies with more than 1,000 employees. After the quotas set by the Copé-Zimmermann Act of January 21st, 2011, setting a minimum of 40% of women on boards of directors and thresholds to be reached in 2014 and then 2017, this time the question focuses on the proportion of women executives.  

Moderate requirements

Under the new scheme, employers will be required to publish annually "an indicator relating to the representation gaps between women and men in positions of higher responsibility". They will also need to specify the means used "to achieve a minimum representation of 30% for each gender". A penalty of up to 1% of the total wage bill could be imposed if the target is not reached within eight years. Behind these deliberately moderate requirements, which are spread out over time, there lies a single objective, namely to increase the number of women in the executive bodies of companies. Germany has just gone down this same road by introducing quotas for company management boards. The task will be more difficult than with boards of directors, because "on an Excom there is no natural turnover", said Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, President of MEDEF**. So which way forward? Efforts have already been made, as more than a quarter of the executive committees of SBF 120 companies have at least 30% women, "but only 5% have an Excom with more than 40% women," stresses Floriane de Saint Pierre, Chair of Ethics & Boards. "There are still more than 40% of SBF 120 companies with 20% or less women, and 10% with none at all."   

For Florence Ferraton, "the urgent need is for women to be able to access operational positions". This feminisation is one of the non-financial criteria to which investors are increasingly attentive. "Companies that don't toe the line will cease to attract customers or talent," she said. 

* LREM: political party founded by President Emmanuel Macron 

** MEDEF: French equivalent to the CBI 

Read the full article in French here.