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Female quotas needed in the short-term

News Business 22.01.2013 Margaret Ferns
Photo: Steve Eastwood

Equality: The Grand Duchy’s “board ready women” were favourably disposed to Viviane Reding’s recent proposal as the 4th annual Female Board Pool conference got under way, writes Margaret Ferns.

Monday saw the fourth edition of the Female Board Pool seminar in Luxembourg kick off at the Chamber of Commerce. The two-day seminar started with a networking event that included a lively round table discussion on “gender representation at senior management and board of director’s level” and debated European commissioner Viviane Reding’s proposal to impose a quota of 40% female board members by 2020.

The Female Board Pool of Luxembourg is organised by Rita Knott of the Maison du Coaching et Consulting (photo, centre), who explained: “The limited number of women participating on boards of directors has been the subject of much public discussion recently, both in Luxembourg and throughout Europe. As a result there is now a will to diversify company boards, especially since the publication of Viviane Reding’s proposal.”

The organisation was created to provide “a platform for contact between experienced and future female board members and corporations and organisations,” Knott said.

Getting women on board

 “An administration council needs specific competences such as risk, compliance and internal control,” said Daniela Klasén-Martin, managing director of Dominion Corporate Group in Luxembourg (photo, left), who took part in the round table discussion and voiced her support of the initiative.

Fatiha Charti, head of business development at IRML Luxembourg (photo, right), also participated at the seminar saying: “I am a strong supporter of the Female Board Pool as it leads to better governance and offers an efficient solution to one of the major issues of [the] gender imbalance pipeline.”

According to Sandrine LeClercq, counsel at Baker and McKenzie in Luxembourg: “Women do not only need to be ‘taken on board’, they also need to be qualified and ready to take on active board membership.”

Quota proposal

In November last year the European Commission proposed new legislation to accelerate the progress towards a better gender balance on the corporate boards, with Viviane Reding challenging European companies to “pledge to reach the target of 30% female board members by 2015 and 40% by 2020 by actively recruiting qualified women to replace outgoing male board members.”

The question of the imposition of quotas has been hotly debated since then and opinions vary.

Although the general view at the seminar was that the participants would prefer not to have quotas imposed, there was also a consensus that perhaps they might be necessary in the short term in order to promote consistent change.

“I personally would not want people to think I was granted a position based solely on my gender,” said Charti, “But I can see how quotas might be necessary. On paper decision makers are in favour of gender diversity, however, when things get tough male decision makers tend to be reluctant to leave their comfort zone and perpetuate the existing model.”

Similarly, LeClercq said that “it is necessary as a temporary measure. Forcing the issue challenges mentalities, even of women themselves who often believe they are not allowed to or are discouraged from putting themselves forward for board positions.”

Klasén-Martin was not overly keen on the imposition of quotas, but feels that, “at the very least we are now talking about the issues and positive measures are being taken. The point is that we must ensure the best possible governance for European companies and it makes complete sense that we tap into the massive talent pool that women represent to achieve this.”

Positive impact

A recent Credit Suisse research study published showed that: “Stocks with at least one woman on their board tends to outperform those with no women by 26% over the course of six years.” Imagine the potential of boards made up of 40% women.

Margaret Ferns is a former business journalist and currently a public relations consultant whose firm has represented some of the firms mentioned in this article.