Sunday, May 9, 2010

French companies get serious about putting women in the boardroom

MOST French bosses have little time for a new law, now going through parliament, which would compel listed companies to lift the proportion of women on their boards to 40% by 2016, says this interesting article from The Economist. With the French government determined to make France the second country with a compulsory quota for women in the boardroom, I was reminded of the Women's Reservation Bill in India and how Indian politicians "manage" such reservations.
  • In private, chief executives say they will look for female board members of a particular type: those who will look decorative and not rock the boat.
  • One boss asked a headhunter for photographs of candidates and said he would treat looks as his first criterion, ahead of industry experience.
  • A board member of a multinational company who opposes the 40% quota said that bosses could simply appoint their wives or—more subtly—their girlfriends.
  • In March Dassault Aviation, a manufacturer of fighter planes and corporate jets, said it would nominate Nicole Dassault, the 79-year-old wife of Serge Dassault, its controlling shareholder, to its board. Mrs Dassault has little hands-on business experience.
  • LVMH has nominated Bernadette Chirac, the 76-year-old wife of the former French president. Mrs Chirac’s qualifications, explained the company, were that she was female and that as first lady she supported fashion and regularly attended catwalk shows.
Enacting law is the first step. But how to ensure it is not abused? In India, we have wife(s)/mother etc who hold the fort (for the family!). In France we have a (a) 79 year old woman appointed with no business experience (b) a 76 year old woman appointed because she was a female and she attended "catwalk shows". One boss says "looks would be the first criteria" while another board member says bosses could simply appoint their wives or—more subtly—their girlfriends!

Did any Indian politician go to France to educate the developed world?