Plan to put more women on Italy boards at risk

Thu Feb 17, 2011 8:19am EST

Related Topics

* Draft bill says 30 pct of board members should be female

* Bill faces around 50 amendments in Italian parliament

* Big business wants gradual introduction, weaker sanctions

By Lisa Jucca

MILAN, Feb 17 (Reuters) - A draft bill aimed at boosting low female representation on Italian company boards is under threat from a barrage of amendments, and opposition from big business and banking lobbies.

Even though Italy's big business lobby Confindustria is chaired by a woman, Emma Marcegaglia, women represent only 4 percent of company board members, the second-lowest rate in western Europe. They are usually paid less than male colleagues.

A draft bill backed by ruling and opposition parties would make it mandatory for listed groups, audit committees and city-owned companies to have 30 percent of their boards women. Those not complying would see their boards declared illegal.

But just days after an estimated million women rallied to protest about how the prime minister's sex scandals are tainting their image, the bill is at risk of being watered down by about 50 amendments tabled by Silvio Berlusconi's PDL party. [ID:nLDE71C0DJ]

"Female participation in Italian corporate boards is ridiculously low," said Laura Frati Gucci, the chairwoman of AIDDA, the Italian female entrepreneurs and managers' association.

"The amendments come in the wake of the protest and are targeted. Some people want to torpedo this bill in the Senate next Tuesday," she told Reuters.

Frati Gucci said that among new businesses in Italy over the past decade, three-quarters were founded or run by a woman.

However, the women holding top corporate jobs tend to inherit them.

They include FiniNvest holding firm and publisher Mondadori (MOED.MI) Chairwoman Marina Berlusconi, the daughter of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi; Jonella Ligresti, boss of insurer Fondiaria-SAI FOSA.MI; and Marcegaglia, head of a steel business.

NORWEGIAN MODEL

Italy's draft bill takes its cue from a groundbreaking law on female board representation in Norway. A survey carried out by Professional Women's Network showed that women make up 11.7 percent of boards at Europe's top 3,000 companies.

The bill, due to be vetted by a Senate committee on Tuesday, received a lukewarm reaction by Confindustria, the Italian Banking Association and insurance association ANIA.

The three powerful lobbies welcomed the proposal this week, but called for full implementation to be pushed back at least 10 years and said the proposed sanctions were disproportionate.

"We hope to get there with the necessary gradualness, with one or two intermediate steps and in the course of two or three legislative terms," the associations said in a joint statement.

A full legislative term lasts up to five years. (Additional reporting by Stefano Bernabei in Rome; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)

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