Image: Unsplash

Members of French Parliament voted in favor of a bill that will require companies to publish yearly data on gender diversity gaps in their ranks and ultimately, to show a certain level of diversity in their upper-level management within the next several years. In a vote over the proposed legislation, the National Assembly unanimously passed the bill on May 12, which will mandate that companies with more than 1,000 employees have at least 30 percent women as “senior managers and members of management bodies” by 2027, and 40 percent by 2030. In addition to employment quotas, the proposed bill requires “large and medium-sized companies” to publish an annual report on gender gaps among their senior executives. 

Beyond the quotas, the “Rixain-Castaner” bill – which is sponsored by LREM member Marie-Pierre Rixain and party president Christophe Castaner and is still in need of approval from the French Senate – aims to address gender diversity by “generalizing” the requirements set out in the professional equality index that was passed as part of the French Finance Act for 2021. Specifically, the Rixain-Castaner bill will require the publication of “all the indicators constituting the overall score of companies, as well as corrective measures” when it comes to gender diversity reporting. Still yet, the proposed legislation establishes that it “intends to increase the financing of women’s entrepreneurship by introducing gender diversity objectives into [French investment bank] Bpifrance’s policy to support the creation and development of businesses.” 

The draft law is the latest in a string of efforts by the French government to address a lack of gender parity in the workplace. Most notably, the new bill comes a decade after the France implemented the Copé-Zimmermann law in 2011, which set a 40 percent minimum gender requirement (for either gender) for companies’ boards; the law has since led to a marked rise in diversity among the boards of CAC40 companies – i.e., the 40 largest and most actively traded shares listed on Euronext Paris. As of September 2020, women “comprised 45 percent of board members overall,” as of September 2020, according to management consultancy Russell Reynolds, up from 10 percent in 2009, thereby, enabling France to take the title of “the European driver of gender equality.” 

After the push to establish quotas for corporate boards “spread across Europe in recent years, countries are now pointing their legislation at Executive leadership,” Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of the leading gender consultancy, 20-First, wrote for Forbes recently. Early this year, Germany’s cabinet approved a law that will require publicly-traded companies in Germany to have at least one woman in their executive ranks. Meanwhile, Wittenberg-Cox notes that while the United Kingdom has “allowed Boards to have voluntary targets, [it] has more recently voted in pay gap legislation and shared parental leave.”

And in the U.S., where “even top Boards are not reaching 30 percent women, the Biden administration is stepping up on the issue with its new Gender Equity Council.” At the same time, late last year, Nasdaq submitted a proposal to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that, if approved, will refashion the public disclosure requirements for Nasdaq-listed companies, and call for most of the companies traded on the New York-based exchange “to have, or explain why they do not have” a certain number of “diverse directors, including ones who self-identify as female.”

In terms of voluntary efforts, French fashion industry giants, such as LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Kering, have introduced an array of efforts to address a lack of diversity in terms of leadership positions in the industry. LVMH made headlines in 2018 when it became the first French luxury entity to join the nation’s gender equality task force, for instance, and created its “Inclusion Index” that same year “to recognize Diversity and Inclusion initiatives throughout the Group.” The parent to Louis Vuitton, Dior, Celine, and Givenchy, among some 70 other luxury brands, revealed that between 2007 (when it first launched its EllesVMH initiative) and 2020, “the percentage of women in key positions at LVMH rose from 23 percent to 42 percent.” As of now, the company’s 13-member executive committee has two female members; whereas, of the 17 people on its board of directors, 9 are women. 

Rival Kering, which announced in February that it would join the U.N. Women’s Generation Equality Action Coalition, asserted in a 2020 “Sustainability Progress” report that women hold 55 percent of managerial roles in its group. Moreover, Kering’s report revealed that women make up 60 percent of directors positions and account for 33 percent of its executive committee members (as of 2019). Of the Gucci-owner’s current board of directors, 8 of the 13 members are women, and of the executive committee, 4 of the 12 positions are held by women. 

France’s gender equality minister Elisabeth Moreno called the May 12 vote in favor of the Rixain-Castaner bill “a historic step for our country. While France is not expected to achieve gender parity in the workplace until 2054, according to figures from international governance intelligence and monitoring solutions provider, Ethics & Boards Institute, Moreno says that the “introduction of quotas will help to speed up the process.”