France’s 50-50 boardroom mandate?

A bigger slice of the icing.

France’s ruling party has proposed a requirement of gender balance on corporate boards for all companies on the French stock exchange within five years. Currently, only 8% of top-500 board members are women. Under the plan, companies would have 18 months to get to 20% female, and four years to get to 40%.

The proposal was inspired by a similar rule already in effect in Norway, which requires 40% female on boards. Under that rule, women’s representation increased from 16% in 2005 to 39% in 2008. In the U.S., Fortune 500 companies are at Norway’s pre-quota level, having seen an increase to just 15% in 2008, from 10% in 1995, according to Catalyst (but the pace of progress has slowed in recent years).

Corporate board representation is not same as having women in lower level management. At that level, women’s presence is much greater – slowly approaching 50% – but their egalitarian influence appears to depend on their relative status.  So the impact of a reform like that proposed in France is not clear. The tiny number of women at the top benefit, but their effect on the progress of women at lower levels is not established.

Beyond gender, other kinds of quotas are a different story. India is the largest country to impose widespread quotas to combat its caste system. Under their rules, almost half of all state college and university spots must be help for students from lower castes. The quota exist alongside anti-discrimination laws, so that the same articles of the constitution include the “prohibition of discrimination” or “equality of opportunity” as well as a clause permitting “special provision for the advancement” or “reservations in favour of” the “backward classes.” Such laws are illegal in the U.S., as post-hoc interpretations of the 14th Amendment are used to protect Whites. Affirmative action to counter underrepresentation of minorities is now only permitted in increasingly rare cases.

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