- Isabella Lenarduzzi

Quotas give the green light in Belgium too

Last Thursday, the Chamber of Deputies, voted 71 votes to 54 in favour of the bill that public companies and companies listed on the stock exchange are required to have a third of women (up from the current 7%) on the Board of Directors within six years. But why is this essential for our economy?

As reported in October 2010, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2010 placed Belgium is currently placed in 14th position, up 19 places from 33rd place. When we consider the participation of women in the economy, Belgium plummets to 39th place, although this is up from 65th position in 2009… The only parameter that prevents Belgium from finishing in last place is the number of women that we have in politics. Is it any wonder when parity on the electoral list is a legal requirement?

The lack of equality in economic life is not anecdotal: more than 60% of graduates are women and yet despite that only 6% of women have functions in “top management” and only 3% are CEOs in Belgium. Companies are missing out on so much talent and diversity in their management that it’s affecting their economic performance. But that’s not all… inequality also has a negative impact on the growth of the country’s economy. A European survey reveals that if the rate of activity of women (employment + hours of work) was equal to that of men, the GDP of Belgium would increase to 26%, which is equivalent to 5 000 € or more per person per year.

Last week, The Guardian published an opinion article by Economist, Michael Lewis, who stated that the most effective way of avoiding a new financial crisis would be to have 50% of women in risk management functions. It ties in with the argument that if Lehman Brothers had been called “Lehman Sisters”, its collapse could have been avoided.

Neither progress nor equality has ever been achieved without legislation accompanied by sanctions. It’s not quotas that are the scandal but the 7% of women on the Boards of Directors that is the real scandal, that and the inability of humans to change their attitudes without being told to do so.