On December 24, 2021, France adopted a new law to promote gender equality in the workplace and in the economy at large. This law, sometimes referred to as the Loi Rixain (Rixain Law), after the bill’s main sponsor in the French parliament, Marie-Pierre Rixain, imposes quotas for the representation of women in the leadership positions of large corporations, defined as corporations of 1,000 or more employees.
By March 1, 2027, at least 30% of managerial positions in these companies, as well as 30% of the seats on these corporations’ governing bodies, will have to be filled by women. By March 1, 2030, these quotas will be raised to 40% for both managerial positions and governing bodies. Corporations will have a grace period of no more than two years following each of these deadlines to comply, beyond which they will be subject to financial penalties that could go as high as 1% of the company’s total payroll. As of 2020, only one-fourth of French companies had gender quasi-parity among their 10 highest paid positions, and 43% of corporations of over 1,000 employees had fewer than two women among their 10 highest paid positions.
This law builds upon a 2011 law that aimed to promote gender quasi-parity, defined as having no less than 40% of either gender on the board of directors of large companies listed on the stock market. This law was successful in its immediate goal, as women now make up over 46% of the boards of directors of large French corporations listed on the stock market, ahead of the Netherlands (about 39% as of March 2021), Norway and Sweden (about 37%), and well ahead of the United States (about 30%). However, the 2011 law was a disappointment in the sense that the hoped-for trickle-down effect by which more women on corporate boards would lead to more women in management positions, and especially upper-management positions, appears not to have occurred. Additionally, women remain underrepresented on the governing bodies of smaller companies and of companies not listed on the stock market. This new law aims to rectify these imbalances, as it imposes quotas for management positions and positions on the boards of unlisted large corporations. The new law will also require companies to publish statistics on gender parity.
In addition to the above, the new law aims to counteract gender bias in professional training and higher education by requiring that selection juries for all higher education courses be composed of at least 30% women. Public research institutes, as well as schools offering courses that prepare students for grandes écoles — elite French institutes of higher education — will have to publish an index of gender equality of opportunity for all of their courses. The government hopes that this will help correct imbalances by which, for example, women comprise only 26% of graduates of engineering schools versus 70% of graduates with literature degrees.Finally, the new law aims to encourage women in entrepreneurship by helping women access financing. The public investment bank Bpifrance will be required to take gender parity into account in providing financial support to new enterprises, and the selection committees of projects will have to be made up of 30% women by March 1, 2022, and 40% women by March 1, 2026.