France sets quota for women on big companies' boards

Office workers descend a set of stairs to a train station in central Sydney October 8, 2009. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s parliament gave final approval on Thursday to a law forcing large companies to reserve at least 40 percent of their boardroom positions for women within six years.

The legislation, backed by both President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party and the opposition Socialists, will apply to some 2,000 companies in France which are either listed, have more than 500 employees or revenues over 50 million euros.

France has some women in senior economic positions including Anne Lauvergeon, chief executive of nuclear group Areva, and Economy Minister Christine Lagarde.

But overall, female representation at boardroom level is low. According to a parliamentary report, women made up only 15 percent of the board members of companies on the blue chip CAC 40 index last year.

“This text represents a real advance,” said Aurelie Filipetti of the Socialist Party.

As an interim measure, the firms will have to ensure women have at least 20 percent of boardroom seats within three years. So far, only seven companies on the CAC 40 index meet that criteria, the parliamentary report found.

The law watered down an earlier proposal which would have ordered full gender equality on company boards within six years.

Some left-leaning party groups boycotted the vote, saying the law was not ambitious enough, while the New Center party voted against it, arguing that coercion and quotas would not solve the underlying problem.

The law brings France into line with Norway, where quotas ensuring a minimum level of female representation in boardrooms were introduced in 2003 and Spain, where a similar measure was passed in 2007.

Reporting by Emile Picey, writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Maria Golovnina