Reaching the goal of equal pay for women, in France and in Europe, would be highly profitable for the economy.
Equal treatment for men and women is essential in terms of social justice, freedom and morality. It also plays a decisive if underestimated role in the development of companies and countries.
Women have a central part to play in the advancement of business activity and standards of living. In developed countries, progress in girls’ education accounts for a quarter of the growth recorded over the last fifty years. This fact is borne out in Northern Europe where the rise in the percentage of women in the workplace has reached over 70% – following the “dual-income, dual-career” model – and is the reason for almost a third of the rise in per capita GDP since 1970. In emerging countries, on the other hand, discrimination against girls and women in education, the right to own to property, inheritance laws, the labor market, the right to open a bank account, the ability to take legal action and the possibility of owning one’s own business go hand in hand with non-development.
The same is true for businesses. A study of the performance of the 300 largest companies worldwide shows that the most “feminized” among them produce capital profitability and operational results that are higher (47% and 55% respectively) than those under solely male governance. Within the Fortune 1000 companies, over a twelve-year period, those companies managed by women have generated a return on equity that is 226% more than that produced by the S&P 500. And between 2006 and 2016, the CAC 40 companies in which at least 35% of executive positions were held by women saw their share value rise by 60%, as compared to a fall of 4% for the whole of the index. This is why the main asset managers, notably BlackRock, which manages over 5,000 billion dollars worth of assets, favors companies that take an active approach to promoting diversity.
Women hold considerable economic power for they buy 80% of consumer goods in northern countries. They account for 60% of those who hold university degrees in Europe and the USA. They represent the majority of voters in developed democracies. It only remains for them to be able to fully exercise their potential, which means bringing public policy into play.
In emerging countries, the priority is to get rid of any discrimination that penalizes women, so that equal rights may be recognized. The impact on economic take-off and well-being is immediate, as substantiated in countries with very high growth, such as Peru, Rwanda and Namibia. In developed countries, the problem is less to do with fundamental rights than with the gap between real and theoretical equality, notably in terms of access to managerial posts and higher pay. However, it is necessary to be especially vigilant in defending the rights of women in face of the challenge represented by political Islam, which presupposes the subordination of women and acts on it. Religion or culture cannot serve as a pretext for any reassessment of gender equality; there is no compromise possible on the subject.
However, the main issue remains the removal of gaps in job and pay equality, which could potentially amount to 12 growth points by 2030. Europe and France have made significant progress, but a certain stagnation – even regression – is emerging, which calls for some revitalization to take place, in five areas:
- In the field of education, women are in the majority in higher education but not so present in the sciences, as is the case in France where 58.2% of all students are women, but they only account for 38.7% of science students and 28% of engineering students. It is vital to fight against stereotypes and encourage women to go in for science studies.
- Women’s role in the workplace is directly dependent on their being able to reconcile their working lives with their family lives; hence the importance of building up childcare services.
- The principle of equal pay is laid down by law but is not often adhered to in practice. In France, the wage gap between men and women is 9% for identical positions, 25% for all jobs, and 37% for retirement pensions. As well as the need to apply sanctions, the best antidote to discrimination and arbitrary pay scales is transparency.
- The key point is access to top managerial posts. The Copé-Zimmermann law, which requires 40% of the members of the Board of Directors of companies with more than 250 employees to be women, has brought about spectacular progress and has greatly increased the quality of governance in French companies. This measure should be extended progressively to include executive bodies so as to remedy the imbalance that exists: whereas 43% of board members of the SBF 120 companies are women, they only make up 17.7% of the members of executive committees.
- In France, it is government that is lagging behind the most. Only 15.7% of local government bodies are run by women and only 37% of ministerial cabinets. There is a large majority of women in the civil service (62%), but they make up only 40% of category A executives and 35% of those in managerial posts, which is an infringement of the Sauvadet law. Similarly, they only occupy 35% of seats on the boards of companies where the state is a shareholder. Lastly, there is a 12% wage gap between sexes in the civil service. As far as gender equality is concerned, government is quick to lecture businesses and impose rules, but just as quick to exonerate itself from the application of those rules.
In Le deuxième sexe [The Second Sex], Simone de Beauvoir pointed out that “it is high time, in the interest of women and of everyone, that they were able to take all the opportunities open to them.” Giving women all their opportunities is not only a moral obligation and a principle of democracy, it is also a sure bet for the economy. Wealth can only come from diversity.
(Column published in Le Point, 6th June 2019)