Why New EU Quotas For Women Executives Are No Threat To Male Domination

Heading up, glass ceilings
Heading up, glass ceilings
Barbara Vorsamer


BRUSSELS - "It’s done," a relieved Viviane Reding tweeted in several languages. The European Union Commission had finally approved her plan for women to constitute 40% of non-executive board directorships in large listed companies in Europe by the year 2020. In October, Reding had delayed the launch of her proposal which, having now been given the thumbs up from the Commission, must be approved by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

It's done. The Commission has adopted my proposal for a European law so that women represent 40% of company board members by 2020

— Viviane Reding (@VivianeRedingEU) November 14, 2012

That should be cause for celebration for European women, no? And does this mean we’re finally done with all the talk about quotas, childcare subsidies and daycare options? Men aren’t the only ones who tune out when these issues are brought up again and again.

The subject of quotas, though, is too close for comfort for many men, who perceive them as a threat, and are worried about their own careers if their female colleagues are also in the running for the top slots -- there are, after all, just four corner offices per floor.

But fear not, gentlemen: Reding’s mandatory may make for great headlines: but quotas are not a threat.

A toothless tiger

But examined a little more closely, the plan emerges as a tiger without teeth. Gone are some of the items that gave it bite when it was first introduced, such as extending a mandatory quota to executive officers. Sanctions for non-compliance are much less stringent than they were initially, and the proposals wouldn’t apply to countries that already have rules in place to support women executives.

What’s more, the members of a corporate supervisory board are not decision-makers. Members meet a few times a year, take the company’s temperature, make some recommendations, and are paid a handsome fee for their efforts. The real-decision making is done by the top executives, where women are massively under-represented. In Germany, women occupy 3% of the highest-level jobs in the 200 biggest companies. The place for quotas is here – not the supervisory boards.

And now for the inevitable “but:” there are too few qualified women available for such posts, and that really constitutes the core of the problem. By this time there could easily be, in virtually every industry, a large enough pool of talented women leaders: after all, women have for years no longer been the “underrepresented sex” at the office – except in the top slots. Most of the students in German universities are women, and early on in careers – in starting positions and in the first years – there is no gender gap.

Balancing children and career

That only comes later: when instead of getting a corner office the female colleague has a baby. She then typically reduces her work hours; let’s say by a third. The pattern persists for women with children to work fewer hours, and men with children to work longer hours. In Germany, 91% of women take a 12-month maternity leave, most men none at all or at most two months. And there is no question that climbing the corporate ladder is not for those who can’t or do not wish to spend endless hours at the office.

That in turn leads to the present situation: over twice as many men occupy Germany’s four million management jobs (the figure includes lower and middle management). The higher up the ladder you go, the more this inequality is exacerbated all the way to the CEO who can then claim he’d love to see a woman among the top executives but unfortunately can’t find one who qualifies.

So the most important thing – a far higher priority than quotas for women on boards or even top female executives – is creating the framework for careers to coexist equitably with having a family. Flexible work times, meaning that the employee isn’t the only one who’s flexible but the employer is too. A corporate culture in which constant presence at the office is not a criterion for evaluating performance. Enough affordable daycare, and kindergartens and schools where kids can spend the whole day. Men who do their bit helping in the house and raising the kids, and not least: women who demand more from their partners.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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