November 29, 2023

The Female Factor: Push for Gender Balance on Boards Gains Steam

“The proof is in the pudding: regulatory pressure works,” Viviane Reding, the E.U. justice commissioner, said in a statement to the International Herald Tribune on the eve of her participation in a panel on the role of women in economic decision-making at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Ms. Reding is leading a campaign for legally binding measures to promote gender equality in the top ranks of the European business world. But she has run into vigorous opposition from some E.U. governments, including Britain’s, that prefer that such measures be voluntary.

Ms. Reding had to abandon a proposal in November for legislation that called for punishing companies whose supervisory boards had fewer than 40 percent women. Ms. Reding then proposed that sanctions apply only in cases where companies do not have 40 percent of women on their supervisory boards and fail to enact selection procedures giving priority to a qualified female candidate.

Her appearance at Davos should give her another opportunity to make the case that her amended proposal, which must be approved by the European Parliament and by E.U. governments, should be adopted across Europe.

Belgium, France and Italy, among others, recently adopted legislation encouraging the naming of women to corporate boards and “are starting to show progress,” she told the I.H.T. The evidence “clearly demonstrates that time-limited regulatory intervention can make all the difference,” she said.

In Italy, which adopted a law in 2011 requiring listed and state-owned companies to have women in a third of management and supervisory-board positions by 2015, there was an increase of 4.9 percentage points between January and October last year in the number of women on the boards of listed companies. Even so, Italy remains below the European average, with only 11 percent of those seats occupied by women.

Ms. Reding lauded France for becoming the first E.U. member state last year to have more than one woman on the top-level board of all of its largest listed companies, including major banks like Crédit Agricole and BNP Paribas. She said women now represented a quarter of the membership of nonexecutive boards on the CAC 40, an index of leading French stocks.

France introduced its law last year requiring executive and nonexecutive boards to have 20 percent women by 2014 and 40 percent women by 2017. Boards that do not include enough women would have their votes annulled.

Women still lagged far behind men and occupied only 15.8 percent of seats on the executive and nonexecutive boards of publicly listed companies across the Union as of October 2012, according to figures to be released on Friday by the European Commission. But that represented a gain of 2.2 percentage points from a year earlier.

The gain was also the highest yearly rise since 2003, when the European Commission began monitoring gender balance on corporate boards, according to Ms. Reding.

“Companies are finally starting to understand that if they want to remain competitive in an aging society they cannot afford to ignore female talent,” said Ms. Reding, who added that 60 percent of graduates from universities in the Union’s 27 member states last year were women.

Nearly all E.U. countries recorded an increase in women’s membership on the executive and nonexecutive boards of publicly listed companies between January and October last year, the commission said. The exceptions were Poland and Ireland, where the numbers held steady at 12 percent and 9 percent, and Bulgaria, where the figure dropped four percentage points to 12 percent, according to the commission.

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Appeals Court Rules Against Health Law Mandate

ATLANTA (AP) — A federal appeals panel struck down the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care overhaul Friday, moving the argument over whether Americans can be required to buy health insurance a step closer to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The divided three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded Congress overstepped its authority when lawmakers passed the so-called individual mandate, the first such decision by a federal appeals court. It’s a stinging blow to Obama’s signature legislative achievement, as most experts agree the requirement that Americans carry health insurance — or face tax penalties — is the foundation for other parts of the law.

The 207-page opinion, written by Chief Judge Joel Dubina and Circuit Judge Frank Hull, found that lawmakers cannot require residents to “enter into contracts with private insurance companies for the purchase of an expensive product from the time they are born until the time they die.”

In a lengthy dissent, Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus accused the majority of ignoring the “undeniable fact that Congress’ commerce power has grown exponentially over the past two centuries.” He wrote that Congress generally has the constitutional authority to create rules regulating large areas of the national economy.

The White House argued the legislative branch was using a “quintessential” power — its constitutional ability to regulate interstate commerce, including the health care industry — when it passed the overhaul law. Administration officials said they are confident the ruling will not stand. The Justice Department can ask the full 11th Circuit to review the panel’s ruling and will also likely appeal to the Supreme Court.

“Individuals who choose to go without health insurance are making an economic decision that affects all of us — when people without insurance obtain health care they cannot pay for, those with insurance and taxpayers are often left to pick up the tab,” said White House adviser Stephanie Cutter.

The 11th Circuit’s ruling, which sided with 26 states that had sued to stop the law from taking effect, is the latest contradictory judicial opinion on the health care debate. The federal appeals court in Cincinnati upheld the individual mandate in June, and an appeals court in Richmond has heard similar challenges to the law. Several lower court judges have also issued differing opinions on the debate.

Legal observers long expected the case would ultimately land in the Supreme Court, but experts said Friday’s ruling could finally force the justices to take the case.

“There needs to be a pronouncement that’s nationwide,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. “It would be almost impossible to implement it if we have splintered decisions from different geographic circuits. The Supreme Court may feel now it has to take it.”

It’s the latest hit the president’s taken in what’s been a rough month that’s included humiliating blows on both the economy and in Afghanistan, while polls show deteriorating public support for both him and Congress.

Obama has been criticized by his Democratic base for his failures, which include dropping his push for tax increases as part of last week’s compromise to raise the government’s debt ceiling and his inability to let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire at the end of last year.

The Atlanta-based court is considered by many observers to be the most pivotal legal battleground yet because it reviewed a sweeping ruling by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, who not only struck down the individual mandate but threw out other provisions ranging from Medicare discounts for some seniors to a change that allows adult children up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ coverage.

His reasoning was that the insurance requirement was “inextricably bound together” with the rest of the law, but the 11th Circuit concluded that Vinson went too far. The panel’s ruling noted that the “lion’s share of the act has nothing to do with private insurance, much less the mandate that individuals buy insurance.”

The provision requiring all Americans to carry health insurance or face a tax penalty has been at the center of the legal debate. The law does not allow insurers to turn away the sick or charge them outrageous premiums. To cover their health care costs, others — particularly the young and healthy — will need to pay premiums to keep costs from skyrocketing. The potential tax penalties ensure they will do so.

The Obama Administration also has a little-known fallback if it loses the court battle. The government can borrow a strategy that Medicare uses to compel consumers to sign up for insurance.

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