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WORLD | 08-03-2024 06:10

Corporate shortfall: Women far from reaching 50% of corporate leadership positions

Despite the increased presence of women on boards of directors, the corporate world is still largely run by men.

Women occupy more and more positions of responsibility, but they often stumble at the bottom rung. Despite the increased presence of women on boards of directors, the corporate world is still largely run by men.

"The world of work has been devised to meet the needs of men," Tara Cemlyn-Jones, head of the UK-based 25x25, which advocates parity in business, told AFP.

"The only way to change things is to make structures fairer for women," advocated this professional, who previously worked in investment banking.

The figures speak for themselves. A report by the consulting firm Deloitte, compiled on the basis of nearly 10,500 companies worldwide, indicates that in 2021 only 19.7 percent of board members were women. Among CEOS, the proportion of women was reduced to five percent.

Latin America had only 10.4 percent of women on board seats that year, and 1.6 percent of CEOs, based on a sampling of 320 companies focused on Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Peru.

In the United States, women accounted for about 24 percent of board members and less than 6% of CEOs.

In Europe, according to this Deloitte report, France had 43.2 percent of women on boards of directors in 2021. Only three head a company in the key index, the Paris CAC 40: Catherine MacGregor at energy company Engie, Christel Heydemann at Orange and Estelle Brachlianoff at Veolia.

France has the Copé-Zimmermann law, which has imposed a minimum quota of 40 percent women on boards of directors since 2011.

In Spain, the vast majority of companies in the Ibex 35, the selective index of large listed companies, are headed by men, with the notorious exceptions of Inditex, the parent company of Zara, and Santander bank.

Inditex is chaired by Marta Ortega, daughter of founder Amancio Ortega, and Santander by Ana Patricia Botín, who succeeded her father Emilio Botín on his death in 2014.

In Germany, only Spain's Belén Garijo, at the helm of the Merck laboratory, heads a company on the DAX, the Frankfurt Stock Exchange's elite index.

 

The role of investors

Ariane Bucaille, a partner at Deloitte, believes that "quotas are a formidable accelerator," but, "if we see a greater presence of women on executive committees, it is more in functions such as human resources and marketing," she says.

The non-profit organization 25x25 recently published a report on the issue, which leads to the same conclusions.

Certain positions of responsibility in particular, such as CFO, are a privileged route to the CEO position, but the proportion of women in those positions "remains very low," the 25x25 report notes.

France, a forerunner in this field, adopted the Rixain law, which sets a target of at least 30% of women in management positions as of 2026, and 40 percent by 2029.

This law, says Bucaille, "will encourage some progress.” But the process is slow. "We shouldn't relax," because "we're still a long way off," she warns.

Beyond quotas, Tara Cemlyn-Jones stresses the need to change environments and mentalities, and investors have a role to play.

"Questions should be asked about the way investments are decided. Why is it tolerated to have fund managers saying, 'don't worry about the gender of the manager?’ We don't want to hear that anymore," insists Tara Cemlyn-Jones.

by Marie-Morgane Le Moël, AFP

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