Success or Warning?: Paris Fined For Breaking Gender Parity Law

February 6, 2021

3 min read

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What's going on here?

In the first penalty of its kind, Paris authorities have received a historic €90,000 fine for recruiting too many women to executive roles. In 2018, contrary to French law mandating “gender parity” in public appointments, authorities awarded almost 70% of roles to women.

What does this mean?

Defiant Paris Mayor, Anne Hidalgo, criticized the fine as “absurd, unfair, irresponsible and dangerous”, claiming City Hall was being penalised, “for being too feminist”. Yet, Hidalgo’s protests appear to overlook the breach which resulted in the fine – unequal gender recruitment. Usually, such outrage would be reserved for breaches involving a bias towards men, not women. It appears that in this climate, any law aiming to remove gender bias is “damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t”. 

France’s penalty came just weeks after Germany agreed a similar mandatory quota for the first time. Germany’s policy intends to get more women into the boardroom of Germany’s top corporates, after years of failed voluntary regulation. Franziska Giffey, Minister for Families and Women, celebrated the historic breakthrough. “We are putting an end to women-free C-suites in big companies.” C-Suites are management boards with C-level roles such as CEO, COO, and CFO. 

Even the UK hasn’t escaped the gender pressure. The Fawcett Society’s research shows the UK lagging behind its counterparts and has called on the Government to increase the numbers of women in senior roles, adding “quotas, targets and policy interventions” could be a way forward. With more countries deciding to replace the “carrot” system with the “stick”, it seems the trend in legislating to address the parity issue is set to continue.

What's the big picture effect?

The wider fallout from this news is not about the fine’s size but the sheer pace at which women are now being endorsed.

The herculean effort to address the historic gender imbalance is a laudable cause, but for many years, mandatory gender quotas have been blamed for encouraging “quantity over quality”. In nearly all corners of the world, gender parity is top of the political agenda. Fuelled by the media, countries compete for the title of the “most female-friendly” nation. But this “positive gender bias” strategy is unproven. The long-term impact of meddling in the natural order of business is yet to be seen. Prominent businesses are raising the alarm. France and Germany rank sixth and fourth, respectively, in the league table of most powerful nations in 2019. In a post-Covid world, they cannot afford to lose steam. So, it is understandable that many are branding quotas as unnecessary interference with corporate internal affairs and an artificial manipulation of free-market enterprise. But if the sheer determination of the policies’ pioneers is anything to go by, it would take a brave business to argue, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”.

However, without the benefit of historical data or up-to-date research on the true impact of such policies, the elephant in the room remains. Will forcing mandatory quotas for women on business make those businesses more competitive and successful, or just better places to work? Only time will tell.  

Deep down, there is the fear that this bold bid to add a female dimension to the market, for the benefit of the company and its staff, might just end up having detrimental, business consequences. For those “Power” nations who care less about the role of women in business, the gender-parity “distraction” imposed on their competitors may be just what they are banking on. An opportunity to overtake those “corporate” vehicles on the road, whose drivers are so busy looking inside the car, they have completely taken their foot off the gas. 

Being successful in business is not about crossing the finishing line properly – it is about getting there first. Whatever gender ends up driving that car, they must never forget that.         

Report written by Denise Atwell

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