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But others say a polite shove is sometimes needed. They insist that France's largest parties failed to meet the quota requirements because powerful men didn't want to relinquish their positions to women. "There is still a lot of machismo," says Anne Hidalgo, a Socialist Party (PS) member who is also deputy mayor of Paris and a city councilwoman.
Even the left-leaning PS, which introduced the parity law in the first place, supplied an electoral list composed of only 36% women. Hidalgo says that there were ample female candidates available at the time but that the party leadership wouldn't place them on the list. "We're still fighting an old-school mentality," says Annick Lepetit, a deputy in the National Assembly.
In some of the places where women have been most successful in politics in Sweden, for example they have achieved more access through voluntary quotas. But even that strategy can prove superficial. In the 1980s, several parties in Denmark, including the Social Democratic Party (SD), embraced 40% quotas. Then, in 1996, thinking equality had been achieved, they abandoned the requirement. "The young women in the party felt they didn't need such rules," says Drude Dahlerup, a Danish professor of political science at Stockholm University. But in the next election for the European Parliament, all four Social Democrat front-runners were men. It was an embarrassment so Ritt Bjerregaard, Denmark's European Commissioner, campaigned for a lower-placed woman who went on to win a seat.
Quotas, as the most reliable way to boost female representation, will probably take hold in other E.U. countries. But it isn't clear that they can equalize themselves out of existence. And if statistical equality is hard to achieve in politics where most people agree ruling bodies should reflect populations it will be rougher still in the private sector.
Business: Boardroom Blues
The business world where real power increasingly lies is resolutely male in every European country. Disparities plague the reports of average earnings and the lists of most-powerful people. Only 3% of the top FTSE companies in the U.K. have female executive directors. Even in Sweden, where women make up 45% of parliament, half of all private companies still have all-male boards, and only 2% of CEOs are women. In Norway, 65% of the largest 600 companies have not a single woman on their boards and the chief administrators of all but the smallest law firms are all men, as are 98% of private board chairmen in sizeable companies. "The figures are lousy," says Grete Faremo, executive vice president of Storebrand ASA, a large financial-services company in Norway. "It's not easy to understand." Nor is it easy to accept for many politicians. Both Norway and Sweden are pressuring companies to fill their boards with 40% women, and the threat may crystalize into law next month in Norway.
Last year, Norway's coalition government threatened to require companies to make their boards 40% female if they did not do it voluntarily. A year later, the percentage of women on boards had only increased 2.2%, to 8.5%. In June, Ansgar Gabrielsen, Minister of Trade and Industry, and Laila Daavoey, Minister of Children and Family Affairs, decided to make good on the threat by introducing legislation specifying that if Norway's 600 biggest companies do not voluntarily achieve the 40% level by Aug. 15, 2005, the government can mandate it without further parliamentary action. Companies in violation after a grace period would lose the state certification they need to operate. "Otherwise, it will take another hundred years," says Daavoey. Parliament is expected to pass the bill after returning from vacation on Oct. 1. Last November, Swedish companies received a similar dare from Minister for Gender Equality Margareta Winberg, who vowed to require 25% boardroom quotas. Within a year, the proportion of female board members had nearly doubled, to 11%.
"We think it's wrong on principle," says Per Kveim, CEO of Software Innovation ASA, a Norwegian firm with $70 million in annual revenues. "The authorities can't be controlling who sits on the board. It's the owners who have to decide, and they have more important criteria than gender." Fair enough. But the government has long intervened in corporate decisions in Norway. And there is evidence that women can increase a company's value. Theresa M. Welbourne at the University of Michigan Business School studied stock value and earnings growth following initial public offerings in the U.S. and found that IPOs were significantly more successful when the companies involved had senior female executives. "Having women in the top management team results in higher earnings and greater shareholder wealth," she concluded. So why, in egalitarian havens like Norway and Sweden, haven't more women risen to positions of power in business? Could part of the explanation be that they don't want to?