How Scandal Can Inspire Gender Equality

There is a lot out there on the gender equality issue in politics and business, including the issue that there aren’t enough women, moms or not, in high level positions. Headline Italy—it seems the sex scandal with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has inspired a move toward gender equality at high levels of business.

A recent article by Flaivia Krause-Jackson and Chiara Remondini indicates that “the plight of women in Italy trails the rest of Europe in almost every indicator of gender equality. That might change when it comes to…

…the boardroom level of companies there. If passed, proposed legislation from Berlusconi’s party would require companies to appoint women to a third of board seats. According to a 2010 report by McKinsey and Company, currently Italian women make up only 6% of board directors.

The European Professional Women’s Network indicates that in 2008, in the European Union almost 10% of the board members at the top 300 companies were women. In the States, roughly 15% percent of the board members of the Fortune 500 companies were women, in China 5% and Japan, just over 1 percent.

In 2003, Norway blazed the boardroom legislative trail. That year a law passed that required 40% of company board members be women. The country is still working on it; recent stats indicate women fill more than a quarter of the board seats at the largest privately held companies. Many feminists believe this is the “boldest move anywhere to breach one of the most durable barriers to gender equality.”

It had caught on–Spain and the Netherlands have passed similar laws. France, Belgium, Britain, Germany and Sweden have proposed this type of legislation. No sign of the U.S. to follow suit, despite research that tells us that a “critical mass of three of more women directors can bring about a fundamental change in boardroom dynamics and enhance corporate governance.”

This positive impact and the impact on gender equality are promising, at least for some countries. The idea that women at the higher echelons of companies don’t have children seems to be challenged here too. Take Italy; it has a low birthrate of about 1.4 per woman–Just because women have fewer (or no) children has not meant they get to these kinds of higher echelons of companies.

If legislation like this passes, it will be interesting to find out the number of children the rising number of women on boards have, or don’t have. In the meanwhile, may there be a silver gender lining in the Berlusconi scandal.

Will we ever see this kind of legislation in the U.S.?  Like the possibility of proposing gender (or ethnicity) requirements in Congress, I say bet no money on it. You–why or why not?

2 thoughts on “How Scandal Can Inspire Gender Equality

  1. The motives behind such laws are admirable, and I sympathize with the goals, but I think the enforcement of that would be really challenging. Don’t underestimate the power of companies to invent ways of getting around this. Don’t underestimate the power of male executives to keep power for themselves. You would probably see some token slots for women board members or in some cases fictional women who exist only online or in some cases men who mark a form saying they are female.

    I have what might seem to be a silly question, it does raise an important question for enforcement: how do you know a particular board member is female or male?

    1. Scott, you raise an interesting question re tracking/enforcing this. I know Norway has as way a part of the law but not sure about other countries. If you are right about male execs trying to fake the system once it is required, to me that means we have lot farther to go than we think in terms of reaching true gender equity…..

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