THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Gender Quotas: The Wave of the Business Future?

2009-12-04-wroyal05150x133.jpg2009-12-04-_42568337_sarkozy_afp150x150.jpgFollowing up on his plan to move beyond the GDP to more adequate measures of national well-being that include unpaid care work, French President Nicholas Sarkozy has proposed a new plan to advance gender equity: a scheme to impose gender quotas on French boards of directors in order to achieve parity, since it just wasn't happening without them.

The Guardian reports:

"In a bill submitted to the French parliament this week, all companies listed on the Paris stock exchange would have to ensure female employees made up 50% of their board members by 2015. If passed, a gradual implementation of the law would see businesses obliged to have women in 20% of board seats within 18 months, and 40% within four years."

In a related move, in 2000 France changed its constitution to promote gender equity in politics,* but currently, the Guardian reports, "only 18% of MPs in the lower house [of the French Parliament are] women." This parallels the 17% of Congressional seats held by women in the US.

In the U.S., though women hold more than 50% of managerial positions, only 15.2% of directors seats on corporate boards are filled by femmes. Only 3% of US corporations have female CEOs (Ursula Burns of Xerox, left, is one). 2009-12-04-ursula_burns_speaker.jpgThough boards presumably seek the most able appointees, the old-boy network still has strong hold and able, qualified women are being overlooked. Without a strong incentive, established boards of directors have not actively sought to bring in points of view that might challenge established business practice.

But after the recent business collapse in the US and beyond, it's clear that old ways of doing business are not serving us well -- and that new viewpoints are badly needed.

If the French proposal passes, observers doubt whether the board quotas will be met on schedule, since the political quotas have not been. But no change is possible if no attempt is made. Is it time for the US to start thinking along similar lines?

*"The French Constitution was reformed in 1999 to state that "the law favors the equal access of women and men to electoral mandates and elective functions." In 2000, French law was changed so that political parties must present equal numbers of men and women (within two percent) for most elections. In 2007, socialist Ségolène Royal (see above) stood for the Presidency, but lost with 47% of the vote to conservative Nicolas Sarkozy." (International Women's Democracy Center)