TRIBUNE. The woman is the future of the decision maker

10 years of the Copé-Zimmermann law

The Copé-Zimmermann law celebrates its 10th anniversary this Wednesday, January 27. This text, which set a minimum quota of women on boards of directors at 40%, bore fruit: a decade later, according to figures from Ethics & Boards quoted by “les Echos”, women occupy in 45.8% of director positions in SBF 120 companies, an index comprising the 120 leading French companies listed in Paris, against 12.5% ​​in 2010. Should this obligation be extended to executive committees, the governing body of companies? The government is thinking about it, while the largest European economy, Germany, has just embarked on this path.

The Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire announces that he wants quotas for women in the governing bodies of companies, places of decision par excellence. While culturally and in the collective imagination, the decision remains more associated with the masculine, more and more women wish to access all spheres of exercise of power.

Why we must impose quotas for women in the executive committees of companies

What are the expected consequences of this rebalancing? Would there be specificities of the female decision? Will women soon be decision-makers “like the others”?

Influencing is no longer enough: an ascent with forceps

Boris Johnson’s companion, Carrie Symonds, would have strongly encouraged the latter [Premier ministre du Royaume-Uni] by its “Backstage action” to conclude a “deal” with the European Union a few days before the Brexit date. But this indirect influence, which seems from another time, is no longer sufficient for women. As Muriel Jasor indicates in “les Echos” at the start of 2021: “Ladies, power is taken, it is not given”. Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank (ECB) and second most influential woman in the world [selon le magasine « Forbes »], clearly defines it: “Power is the ability to decide. “ It would therefore be in a spirit of conquest, including cunning in the manner of Ulysses or Kamala Harris, with their respective Trojan horses, that women organize themselves and impose themselves in high decision-making circles.

Kamala Harris, by Christiane Taubira: “There is no one to symbolize hope better than her”

To get there, we had to have an obligation weighing down on people. Quotas for diversity now make it possible to display near parity in certain decision-making places. 45% of the boards are women. But be careful not to get attached to figures that arrange or prominent figureheads like Christine Lagarde. Women remain under-represented in influential bodies in the broad sense: there is still only one female patron of the CAC 40 [Catherine MacGregor à la tête d’Engie], a handful who chair the boards of directors, and less than 30% of women sit in the comex (executive committee), places of decision par excellence. On the other hand, women are still under-represented in entire sectors of the economy (digital, artificial intelligence, tech, start-ups – only 2% of funds have been raised by female start-ups in France since 2008) . The policy is not much more exemplary, like the decision-making entourage of the current president who remains very masculine.

Michelin, the “Amazon” of the CAC 40

Behind the scenes, in organizations, it still creaks at the time of appointments. Certainly, there is a visible desire in many cases to put women first, even if they are a little less experienced. Men are then asked to accept the rebalancing which is sometimes done suddenly (at the risk of absurdities, such as the 90,000 euros in fines imposed on the City of Paris for having appointed too many women to management positions in 2018).

In terms of parity, Emmanuel Macron still has work to do

On the side of women, some hesitation are felt by some who temper the discourse of “always higher”. What sometimes hinders them is not the prospect of deciding, it is the other aspects of power: the obligation to act in “politics” for example, if present at the levels of management, and a brutality associated with more positions. exposed. Without forgetting the “glass cliff”, inclination which consists in appointing women to take over positions at risk with a risk of failure in the key (as had lived Marissa Mayer at Yahoo!).

Less prejudice against women who decide

How do women decide? Their leadership, and therefore their way of making decisions, is subject to interpretation.

Still feeling the “impostor syndrome”, women “border” their decisions, being careful not to leave a hold to criticism. Thus, they willingly consult those around them and seek a lot more opinions or contributions from those around them, which could rightly be perceived as a lack of confidence. They sometimes openly question their decision-making skills and readily reconsider their decision-making process. Moreover, until recently, the media or publishers devoted content to them intended to gain confidence, with adventurers, business leaders and other athletes as role models. On this subject too, the trend is clearly reversed.

Christine Lagarde, President of the ECB, in November 2019 (DANIEL ROLAND / AFP)

In addition, women sometimes have to deal with a lack of listening, even credibility, which they blame themselves for, seeming to ignore that this can simply result from a voice that is too high. Women’s voices contain a greater range of sound waves and are therefore more difficult (and tiring) for the brain to process. Consequently, “The listening level drops when a woman speaks”, indicates Christine Lagarde, who confesses tapping into her microphone to capture attention during the meetings she presides over… This is not neutral, since the decision includes the art of convincing, the oratory art necessary to gain support . Margaret thatcher [Première ministre du Royaume-Uni de 1979 à 1990] had worked with a coach to make his voice deeper and gain authority.

Finally, women are probably wrongly credited with “little extras” in the decision, such as their famous “intuition” for example. The latter is not more feminine than masculine, but simply linked to experience.

The strengths of decision-makers: collaboration and risk-taking

If women and men draw on the same resources to decide (body, emotions, rationality and intuition), studies allow us to evoke some differences, and therefore complementarities. Two areas are involved: consideration for others and risk taking.

Empathetic Angela Merkel doesn’t forget the numbers and tough decisions for Germany when she addresses the Bundestag on December 9, 2020 [la chancelière demande alors aux parlementaires d’accepter un resserrement des restrictions sanitaires face à la hausse des contaminations au Covid-19]. Christine Lagarde thinks that women wear “People behind the numbers”, corroborated by studies which indicate that, even under stress, women remain more attentive to others. Take the pandemic. Cécile Prieur, new managing editor of “l’Obs”, argues [dans un éditorial] that this situation “Requires qualities of communication, clarity and empathy that many male heads of state, still imbued with the traditional model of leadership, are far from mastering”. Difficult to prove him wrong.

Empathy, the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes, is useful for decision-makers because it promotes listening and understanding of the decision-making environment, and therefore the quality of the latter. When in March 2020, Emmanuel Macron announced that “We are at war”, Angela Merkel evokes at the same time a “Challenge” that depends “Of our common solidarity”. A question of points of view or hormones, it doesn’t matter, the difference is huge: in one case, the decision is up to the leader; in the other, the decision is entrusted to each one, embedded in a collective. And it is often much more effective.

Lagarde, Merkel, Von der Leyen: three women to revive Europe

Studies show that women, more collaborative oriented, also make less risky decisions, human lives or not. Men would be more offensive in their choices, which is not a problem in itself, except when they are not aware of this risk bias. This tendency increases under the effect of stress, which has given rise to the famous “Lehman Sisters” [à l’occasion des 10 ans de la crise, en 2018, Christine Lagarde avait eu cette célèbre formule : « si Lehman Brothers s’était appelée Lehman Sisters, la situation des banques en 2008 aurait été bien différente »] and the call to “A little less testosterone” in trading rooms and finance.

Strong of their differences, women have a role to play in the evolution of organizations. The crisis, which has driven decisions very high in the hierarchies in politics as well as in business, should not deprive them of a contribution that can only be beneficial for the whole of society.


Marine Balansard co-directs the consulting and training firm Ariseal and teaches the art of decision-making, based in particular on his experience as a former trader at Société Générale. She published “Deciding, it works! », With his partner Marine de Cherisey, published by Eyrolles in 2019.

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