Parity: a competitive advantage for French companies

By Frédérique Genton, Artelatum 17 june 2021

Ten years after the introduction of quotas under the “Copé-Zimmermann law”, the goal of balanced representation of women and men on the boards of directors and supervisory boards of France’s major corporations is well on the way to being achieved. From just 10% in 2011, women are now more than 40% represented on these bodies..

In first place in Europe, France is leading the way, outpacing other countries that are less advanced in this area. The percentage of board seats held by women is just 26.2% in Germany, 19.2% in Spain and 22.7% in the UK. In France, women are also two to three times more likely to reach these positions than in the USA (17.6%) or Hong Kong (11.4%)[*].

Despite this positive trend, the rebalancing process in France stops at the boardroom gates. The hoped-for trickle-down effect to the company’s decision-making bodies has yet to materialize. The absence of women on management boards and executive committees is still significant. Only a quarter of them, across all company sizes, have managed to secure a place in the company’s management bodies, with no real distinction between SMEs, ETIs and large companies*.

In response to this situation, a bill to “Accelerate economic and professional equality” is currently being debated by the French National Assembly. Article 7 of the bill calls for quotas to be extended to “10% of the most senior positions” in companies with over 1,000 employees, with the aim of achieving a minimum proportion of 30% women in these positions by 2027 and 40% by 2030.

Quotas, an essential tool
For our managers, this willingness to use quotas seems to be the essential tool for rebalancing the gender balance in management teams. Many of those who were previously opposed to it now seem to have rallied to this position.

Germany has adopted this solution to accelerate change, and will soon be imposing the presence of women on the boards of directors of major companies. This far-reaching reform is one of the last of Merkel’s term of office, which ends in September. But Germany has not yet taken the step of imposing quotas on management or executive committees.

Changing ways of thinking
As in the case of boards of directors, quotas will doubtless not be a sufficient or appropriate solution for instilling the impetus of a new parity at other levels of the company. But this momentum cannot be confined to large groups or listed companies alone. And then there are the SMEs: nearly 4 million in France, with 6.3 million employees. The target is achievable if we compare it with the German ratio: 3.6 million SMEs in Germany for 31.3 million employees.

But economic reality is diverse and complex. Companies outside the major groups will only be able to count women among their managers if they succeed in recruiting externally. Yet, for many of them, building up a “balanced internal pool” of high-potential talent is still an avenue to be explored. Some business sectors, such as logistics, construction and IT, which are overwhelmingly male, still attract too few women. In France, women still only account for a quarter of engineering school enrolments and 17% of engineers in post. These differences are even more marked for certain specialties: less than 10% in electronics, civil engineering or mechanical engineering. So, beyond quotas, what companies need above all is a constructive change in thinking, an adaptation of managerial models and corporate culture.

The advancement of parity will depend on this new corporate frontier: that women, supported by their male counterparts, dare more. It’s a social issue.

Parity: an opportunity for a more virtuous managerial model
If gender parity cannot be achieved without the active participation of men in the issue, it will first and foremost be a matter of working together to create a framework offering women and men equal opportunities to participate in decision-making at the very top of organizations.

But Exec Avenue’s discussions with company directors this spring also show that achieving parity in management teams is much more than a “box to tick”. It’s a process. Managers are the first to recognize the benefits of such a move towards balance. For them, it’s a chance to adopt a more virtuous, cross-functional and participative management model, and above all to build the consensus that is so vital to collective performance.*.

-Women in the boardroom : A global perspective (6e édition), Deloitte Germany’s special path : The Share of Women on DAX Executive Boards declines during the Crisis, AllBright Foundation
* Survey carried out by Exec Avenue in March 2021, among 411 executives from SMEs (37%), ETs (41%) and large companies (22%),
Exec Avenue

Article originally published in Cadre Dirigeant Magazine :

La parité : un axe de compétitivité pour nos entreprises françaises  

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