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Should companies be forced to add women to boards? A new bill seeks to try

An enduring fact in America is that there are still too few women in leadership. Across 3,000 U.S. large companies, women only hold 15% of board seats. It does not help that these boardrooms can be boys’ clubs. It was only last year that an Uber board member made the sexist joke of saying that more women on its board would result in “more talking.”

At the rate we’re going, these American companies will not reach gender parity until 2055. To speed things along, a new California bill, SB 826, was introduced. It would force public companies headquartered in California to have at least one woman on its board of directors by the end of next year, or risk getting a hefty fine. By 2021, companies with six or more directors, would need to have at least three of these board seats be filled by women.

The bill cites research that finds that having more women on boards “creates an environment where women are no longer seen as outsiders and are able to influence the content and process of board discussions more substantially.”

“Boards are where the policy decisions are made about how a company operates,” State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, the bill’s author, told the Sacramento Business Journal. “This is one of the last good-ol’-boy fiefdoms, and we need to do something drastic about it.”

New California bill wants to force all-male boards to add women

If the proposed legislation passes in the state assembly in August, California would become the first state in America to use government pressure to get boardroom gender parity. It would not be the first place in the world, however. California would join other European nations that have already tried this route. In 2011, France passed a law requiring certain firms to fill at least 40% of board seats with women. Since then, the presence of women on boards more than doubled, and women make up 43% of board seats.

Before America joins Europe, it will need to overcome some fierce backlash to the bill. California’s Chamber of Commerce, for example, said it was unconstitutional and violated men’s rights: “If there are two qualified candidates for a director position, one male and one female, SB 826 would require the company to choose the female candidate and deny the male candidate the position,” the advocacy group lamented in a letter.

Supporters to the bill like Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins are standing firm in the face of opposition.

“Why is it so hard for us to try and make the case that women in leadership and women on corporate boards could have a positive impact on your bottom line?” Atkins said on the Senate floor about pushback.

The bill also sparked heated debate among members of Los Angeles Times editorial board about its legality, the repercussions it would have for California entrepreneurship, and if it was enough to address systemic discrimination. “Maybe it’s too nutty even for California, maybe not. But good for Jackson and Atkins, the first female leader of the California Senate, for making us confront this gross disparity.” editorial board member Mariel Garza concluded.

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