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European University Institute - Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies

Should there be gender quotas on boards?

On 3 December, an online debate took place on the necessity of having gender quotas on boards, organised by the Florence School of Banking and Finance.

15/12/2021 | News - Event

Sylvie Goulard, Deputy Governor at the Banque de France, was in favour of establishing gender quotas on boards, while Renée Adams, Professor at Said Business School, Oxford University, was arguing against. Elena Carletti, Professor of Finance at the Bocconi University, chaired the discussion.

Both speakers recognised that low female representation on boards – and generally, in position of leadership – is a pressing issue, but had divergent arguments on whether the introduction of quotas would be the appropriate method to foster gender balance in a way that is sustainable in the long term.

The proponent, Sylvie Goulard, opened the debate by providing examples from recent European and global experiences, highlighting cases where quotas were particularly successful where alternative mechanisms had failed. For example, after France passed a law in 2011 to impose a quota of women in boards of large companies, the percentage of female board members has risen from 10% in 2009 to 45% today. The achievements that such quotas could bring would represent a success not only for gender equality itself, but for the society as a whole, because gender balance is not only a matter of rule of law, equality and fairness, but also a better use of talents.

On the opponent’s side, Renee Adams leveraged on her research and expertise to argue that quotas on boards avoid addressing directly the issues at the core of gender inequality, but instead they shift the attention towards economic arguments. Ultimately, in her view gender quotas are examples of ‘lazy policymaking’: by passing them, politicians do not tackle the actual problems that lead to women’s underrepresentation in leadership. On the contrary, this would reinforce the existing gender stereotypes and allocate on the women shoulder the responsibility ‘to be role models for the next generation of women and save the companies on whose boards they sit’, while struggling ‘to get recognition for their work and to be treated as equals’.

The audience was able to provide their feedback on the discussion through a set of poll questions, which indicated that the vast majority of them agrees that gender quotas on boards is justifiable.

For more information about the positions of the two speakers, read the blog post here. You can also watch the full debate here.

This event was part of two FBF distinct series: FBFDiscuss!, gathering two speakers with contrasting views to discuss a specific motion, and Women in Finance, promoting gender equality by highlighting successful women working in the fields of banking and finance.

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