Support to the European Commission: The shape of our destiny and that of our daughters is in our own hands

02 Apr 2012 04:10 | Deleted user

The shape of our destiny and that of our daughters is in our own hands

After the Oscar ceremony in Hollywood, all the media was talking about “the Artist” and the lack of enthusiasm - to say the least - the film had when it was projected for the first time. The critics were quite hostile and the film had almost no support. The Oscar is not a first for a French movie but still the tremendous recognition given by the Hollywood community warmed my French heart.

They also mentioned the first Pakistani to win an Oscar and how she has been greeted with jubilation in her home country. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won the award for best documentary in the short subject category for her film “Saving Face”, about acid attacks on women.

Now, you should be asking yourself: what the hell is she talking about? And why is she talking about movies?

Because those examples are just showing that courage or some risk-taking and determination can bring you to where you want to be, despite what all the others are saying or thinking. Yes, it took some courage for Michel Hazanavicius to write and produce a black-and-white silent film in 2011. What will be the impact on society? May be not a lot, but at least it will have some repercussions for the French Cinema industry because it raises their profile.

The documentary from Sharmeen and the Oscar she received has had a huge effect in Pakistan. It took her a lot of moral courage and conviction to make this documentary. She had to face criticism from fellow countrymen who did not want to bring global attention to their country’s problem of rampant abuse against women. When she came back, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has granted her the highest civil award. Her voice is now heard. A law named “The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention” was passed in 2011 but is not applied in some regions. The problem is now in the forefront of people’s minds and the focus will be put on the police investigations and the trials and sanctions against the attackers.

It just shows that sometimes it needs a small kick for a ball to roll. It also shows that “we are not powerless; we are agents of change “as Valarie Khan, Chairperson of the Acid Survivors Foundation has stated.

Coming back to our daily lives, when Mrs Viviane Reding launched (on March 1st, 2011) her “Women on the Board Pledge for Europe” it represented a voluntary commitment by publicly listed companies to increase women’s presence on corporate boards to 30% by 2015 and to 40% by 2020.

The text was simple:” I pledge to reach the target of 30% of female board members by 2015 and 40% by 2020 by actively recruiting qualified women to replace outgoing male board members”. Rendezvous was given for the International Women’s day on March 8th, 2012.

One year later the results are more than disappointing:  only 24 companies signed the pledge. I have been asked by journalists if I knew why? Unfortunately I don’t really have an answer and I am still struggling to find one that makes sense. Is it lack of courage from the boards? Do they really care? Was 30% too much? 2015 too soon? What is it? What can be the reason to put aside half of the talents? Half of the workforce?

It is not only a matter of justice or even common sense. While more than 50% of the consumers (85% according to some studies) are women, how can the strategy of a company be complete without taking care of them? Well you may think that the files are well prepared and women have been involved sooner in the process! So why not let the final decision power in the hands of men?

It is not only a matter of diversity; it is a matter of doing better business. Catalyst looked at the profitability of businesses and found that those with three or more women on the boards of directors did better in terms of return on sales, return on invested capital and return on equity than companies without women on their boards. See report .
The common excuse is to say that there are not enough competent women to take the positions. Strangely enough, in the countries where quotas were enforced by law, boards could find enough women to fill the positions. To help companies and head hunters, a database of women ready for board positions will be built at the European level.
Today women occupy only 13.7% of board seats in listed companies (EU-27) compared to 11.8% in 2010. The progress is too slow with a rising share of women on boards of 0.6% per year.  At this rate, it will take another 40 years or so before company boards comprise at least 40% of each gender. And a critical mass of 30% or more women is needed to cause a fundamental change in the boardroom and enhance corporate governance. So a big push for gender balance in business is necessary. We need to fight for it!

Of course, compared to those acid attacks on women described in Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary, this may seem a minor problem. Nevertheless, women’s right are not etched in stone! The young women and most of the older ones think the revolution is over.  They consider all the rights some women have fought for in the past as normal, obvious as if – of course- they were always there. We forget that women’s suffrage is still in its infancy. In most countries, the right to vote was given to women less than 100 years ago. “Given” is not the appropriate word.  Everywhere, women had to fight hard for years to obtain this fundamental right. It may seem obvious to us nowadays, but this right is not yet granted to women in every country. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, other rights like access to birth control and reproductive rights, the right to go to school and to work,…are still to be seen in a lot of places.  We usually think of foreign and underdeveloped countries, but it is much closer to us. I recently read a blog post from an angry women, as she called herself, Soraya Chemaly : “10 Reasons the Rest of the World Thinks the U.S. Is Nuts” It says it all.

I am a strong believer in the power of example and I am sure that every single battle we win here in Europe benefits for all women in the world. We are their role models, so don’t disappoint them!

A first step will be to contribute to the discussion launched by Mrs Reding. Talk about it in your workplace and your social circle. Present it to your managers, to your CEO and to your Board. Lets make a noise and start a movement. Disseminate the materials and reply to the public consultation.

The deadline for replies is 28 May 2012. You can find the consultation here.
For more information, you can read the full press release: IP/12/213 and the Press pack : WOMEN ON BOARDS.

PWI will present its contribution to the consultation. If you want your ideas to be merged with us, send them to me
Wishing to be overloaded with proposals,

Best regards,

Armelle Loghmanian

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