Thursday 23 February 2017

Board games for girls? Le pomposity!

France thinks having more women in business leadership positions will aid financial recovery. Oh no, sighs Eilis O'Hanlon

EILIS O'HANLON

France has always been the land of bad ideas, and now it's the land of bad timing too. In the middle of the worst global recession since the Great Depression, they've decided to pass a law requiring all companies to reserve 40 per cent of the places on their boards for women within six years, or else . . . well, I'm not sure what will happen if they don't. Carla Bruni, wife of the president, will come round and sing them one of her tedious ballads, perhaps.

More women in business? Splendid idea. Nothing wrong with that. Fewer pensionable positions for red-faced male company directors in pin-striped suits? Sign me up, Scotty. But the law is a blunt instrument at the best of times when it comes to promoting equality. In business, it's a logistical nightmare.

Boards tend to be concerned with boring matters like balance sheets and bottom lines, not scratching around desperately for available women to provide ideological window dressing for whatever crackpot scheme for social improvement the government of the day decides to impose on them. Especially in financially straitened times.

Right now, I'd guess that most people don't care where an economic recovery comes from. Men, women, wombats, aliens from Alpha Centauri -- personally, I'm not fussy. Like most people with a mortgage, I'm just hoping recovery comes from somewhere.

The chances of it coming from the French parliament are, however, about as likely as Nicolas Sarkozy dumping the lovely Carla and taking up with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Be honest now, when was the last time big government did anything to help rather than hinder business? No rush now.

Of course, opposition French politicians are already saying the bill doesn't go far enough, including Marie-George Buffet of the French Communist Party, who decried it for not "attacking the roots of inequality". And I'd probably be able to take her more seriously if it wasn't for those three little words "French Communist Party". Nobody has a Communist Party anymore, dear. Certainly not one to whose pronouncements they actually listen. It's just another reminder of why France remains such a joke to the rest of the world.

A delightful joke, for sure. But oh, le pomposity! And I'm not even saying they're wrong for trying, because France has so few women at the helm in political and business life that it's as if the brothers took the old revolutionary line about "fraternite" too literally and decided to grow moustaches and muscle out the "equalite".

I'm just sick of having every idea which emanates from continental Europe reported back to us hapless hicks here in Ireland as if it was the latest word in metropolitan sophistication, over which we should all croon appreciatively before meekly following suit. It was the same when Spain passed similar laws last year. It's like turning up at a party only to find that everyone's wearing the latest fashions from Paris and you're in flanellette pyjamas. Darling, you're so last year. Ultimately, it's all about appearances. France and Spain have the snazziest new laws, but more equal societies? That'll take a little longer in the macho Mediterranean, where a woman's role is still so often to look good and cook better.

In the meantime, would Irish feminists please stop pestering us with nonsense about how we're being left behind in this brave new world of gender equality? The day we start taking lectures on how to make the world a better place from Paris and Madrid is the day the Dail passes legislation ordering Irish men to compulsorily wolf whistle at every passing female over the age of 13; and to sexually harass any woman on public transport.

Only then will we know that we've become truly continental.

Sunday Independent

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