Business management, a masculine bastion that resists

They occupy more and more key positions but continue to stumble on the last step. Despite an increased presence of women on boards of directors, the corporate world remains largely run by men. The figures are clear. On a global scale, according to a report from the Deloitte firm covering nearly 10,500 companies, 19.7% of members of boards of directors (BoDs) were women, in 2021, for… 5% among general managers.

For its part, France has implemented the Copé-Zimmermann law, which has imposed, since 2011, a minimum quota of 40% women on boards. A way to get your foot in the door. “This will bear fruit in the long term,” believes Diane Segalen, president of the recruitment consultancy Segalen + Associés. In 2021, France had 43.2% women on boards, according to Deloitte. However, only three are currently at the head of a company in the flagship index of the Paris Stock Exchange, the Cac 40 (Catherine MacGregor at Engie, Christel Heydemann at Orange and Estelle Brachlianoff at Veolia).

Catherine MacGregor, general director of Engie. (Photo JP Gandul/EPA)

Germany, Spain and Italy lagging behind

It must be said that the business world has long been a male bastion. The first woman to chair the influential French Association of Private Enterprises (Afep), Patricia Barbizet, a regular on the Cac 40 boards, recalled, in 2021, having “entered a business school the first year where girls were admitted”.

No country stands out for its professional equality. In Germany, only Belén Garijo, for the Merck laboratory, manages a Dax company, the flagship index of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. In Spain, the vast majority of companies in the Ibex 35, the Iberian equivalent of the Cac 40, are managed by men, with the exception of Inditex (owner of Zara) and Santander, the leading Spanish bank, chaired respectively by Marta Ortega and Ana Botin. As for Italy, it is not much better off and Giuseppina di Foggia, CEO of the energy distributor Terna, became, last year, the first woman to head a large public group in the country.

Ana Botin heads the Spanish bank Santander. (Photo Juan Carlos Hidalgo/EPA)

“Quotas are a great accelerator”

Because it’s one thing to be present on boards of directors, you still have to occupy key positions in the executive committee, a necessary step before management. Ariane Bucaille, partner at Deloitte, believes that “quotas are a fantastic accelerator” but, “if we see a rise in women in executive committees, it is more in functions such as human resources and marketing” , she analyzes.

To remedy this, France, a pioneer in this area, adopted the Rixain law, which sets a target of at least 30% women in management bodies from 2026, before 40% in 2029. This law “will encourage some progress. But it’s necessarily slow, judges Ariane Bucaille. We must not let up our efforts because (…) we are far from the mark.”



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