Mixing it up in the French Government – Model of diversity?

In a democratic sense, the Government is the representation of the people.  As such, you might expect the notion of “fair” representation to be more heralded by the latest Sarkozy government, ushered in the last week of June 2009.  The new cabinet, under the loyal PM François Fillon, announced on June 25, covering the 38 ministries, contains 8 new people and the mélange is rather interesting.  If it is still not fully representative from a socio-demographic standpoint, the latest Sarkozy cabinet covers a wide spectrum of races, age, sex and ideology.

Fillon IV, New Sarkozy Government at Elysees Palace
Sarkozy’s Shuffle:  Fillon IV – The new government

25 men and 13 women (of which just 4 are full portfolio ministers, down from 7 full ministers in the prior cabinet, while 9 are junior ministers).  13/38 = 32%

In terms of age distribution, 5 ministers are under 40 years old, 12 are over 60.

There are a handful of “French liberals” aka capitalists or just “conservatives” (P Lellouche, H de Raincourt, H Novelli, D Bussereau, H Falco), another handful of centrists (H Morin, M Mercier, V Létard, C Blanc & AM Idrac) and yet another handful that could be said to sway more toward the “left” (Hirsch, Kouchner, Eric Besson, Frédéric Mitterrand et JM Bockel).

There are 4 ministers that represent “diversity” and all four are women.  Insofar as France, following in Norway’s footsteps, has imposed a quota of 40% of women on executive and advisory boards (of state and publicly traded companies) by 2015 (20% by 2011), this Sarkozy government is well on track, if perhaps a little light among the full portfolio ministers.

I was particularly interested by the preliminary words used by President Sarkozy to his assembled team (I transliterate): “ Don’t speak too quickly to the journalists, until you have a good grasp of your subject.  Show solidarity with your fellow cabinet ministers, don’t transgress on each other’s territory (aka don’t step on each other’s toes), and don’t forget that you are NOT in your position just to recycle dossiers that have been prepared for you by your administration.”  (note the double negative).

In these lines, one can read many things.  Communication is absolutely key to success.   Be master of your destiny by gaining knowledge (and I might have added more field work).  And, providing Sarkozy defines carefully enough the said territories, then it will be possible not to interfere with one another’s work.  That said, with such a diverse population in his cabinet, one could also expect to have diverse interpretations.  And that is the benefit and the difficulty of diversity.  Let us see how Sarkozy and PM François Fillon manage. 

Salute – A Testament to the Human Race

Salute Film - Mexican Olympics 1968On January 20th, 2009, while flying back from Las Vegas after having watched the Inauguration of President Barack Obama, I watched the film “Salute,” a documentary of the Australian, Peter Norman (1942-2006).  Norma was the “other” man on the podium, a white man who split Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the 200m final at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.  Smith and Carlos received their medals and raised their hands with the famous black gloves, the Black Power salute.  What is less known is that Norman wore a badge on the podium (above his heart) to show his tacit support of their cause, the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR).  While both Smith and Carlos were expelled from the Games, Norman was “severely reprimanded,” explaining himself, “I believe that every man is born equal and should be treated that way.”

One of the most striking things I learned was that the Aussie athletics team had been given three rules for competing in those controversial and violence-plagued Olympic games:

1. Repeat the form you had achieved to get to the Games. (not too much to ask).
2. Never to finish last no matter the race.
3. Never to finish behind a Pom (aka English).

Among the other anecdotes, for the black salute, Smith held up a gloved right hand (
with, momentarily, a white track shoe in the other hand) and Carlos a gloved left hand because they had to share the only pair of black gloves they had on them (the other pair had been left in the lockers).  The black athletes were shoeless on the podium, wearing black socks to represent black poverty.

As a track athlete, it is great to see the film because you see the classic elements of athletic endeavour.  The psychology of the pre-race preparations.  Carlos looking over his left shoulder that cost him the silver medal (reminiscent of the Roger Bannister 4 minute mile in which he overtook the Australian, John Landy, who was caught looking over his left shoulder in the final stretch).  

Having seen the film, Salute, I have new found appreciation for the boldness of those two Americans and, clearly, a surprising new found respect for the evident implication of Peter Norman. 

I had no idea that the man singing the Star Spangled Banner while the men were on the podium stopped singing 4 bars into it. 

And here we are, forty years later after the Mexico City Olympics — basically as predicted by Robert Kennedy, saying that an African-American could be President of the USA in 30 to 40 years — which he said in 1961.  (MLK said in a 1964 interview that it could happen within 25 years). 

Although “…Peter Norman did not race a fist, he did lend a hand.”  And, unbelievably, Norman’s time that day of 20.06 seconds flat still stands as Australia’s 200m record, and would have won the 200m at Sydney Games, 38 years later. 

Not for the first time, Australians and Americans shared a common battle.  I read these holidays “The Ghost Mountain Boys,” by James D. Hornfischer, a gripping [and true] tale about the war (WWII) in Papua New Guinea where Americans fought with Australians to keep their hold on that island.  And a second fascinating story is
Ship of Ghosts,” by James Campbell, about the fate and survivors of the USS Houston and the Australian HMAS Perth, sunk in the early morning hours of Feb 27, 1942, and their 3+ years of imprisonment thereafter (some might say the real story behind the Bridge over the River Kwai).  It is an odd coincidence that I read both these books over the holidays and that both shared the
word Ghost… not to be mixed up with Ghost Soldiers, the story by Hampton Sides, also about the allied POWs of the Japanese.


Peter means rock.  Peter Norman was a silent rock in the protest and the courage that was encapsulated in those black fists. 

Smith says in the film, “I would die for [Peter]”…an “interesting old guy.”  That is a testament to the human race.  Read Norman’s obituary in the GuardianWikipedia’s version of the Black Power Salute here.

A Difference between Men and Women

Are Men and Women So Different?

Women waiting at the toiletAn advocate of diversity and a student of women’s studies at university, I keep an eagle eye on topics concerning equality. That said, there are also many ways to express and give value to the differences between men and women.

A few years ago, it was determined (by scientists) that there were just 78 differences in our genetic codings (between men and women). Read this BBC article for a quick recap on that point along with a fairly long but enjoyable compilation of people’s thoughts on the subject. Suffice it to say, there is a latent need to recognize the differences, and the following paragraph is a case in point. Equality sometimes takes accepting, even celebrating the differences.

Women Men DifferenceA fairly recent editorial article entitled “The woman in the Men’s” by Garrison Keillor in the Herald Tribune caught my attention. The issue at hand is the inequality of the public bathroom experience for women and men to the extent that, for example at intermission at theatres, women have long queues to deal with, while men hustle through in time for a drink at the bar. Keillor suggests, and I thoroughly agree, that architects should allow for toilets to allow equal through traffic. it seems ludicrously dogmatic to create toilets the same size considering the time it takes to consummate the act for each sex, as well as the space requirements of a urinal versus a stall. However, contrary to Keillor, perhaps for living in Europe most of my life, I see no offence to women “breeching the door marked MEN.” Hurray for the New York state of mind. Anyway, good pause for reflection for anyone in the throes of planning a public space. [If you are looking for an odd blog, here is one about toilets and, more specifically, about a portable toilet for cars from Japan.]

And, while I am on the topic of equality, here is an interesting article from the BBC on the benefits of women in the workforce: Why companies need female managers. Again, many complementary aptitudes and attitudes.

Updated: And, finally, a video excerpt (5m32) entitled “Tale of Two Brains” by Mark Gungor that plays out with a very balanced sense of humour — generalisations notwithstanding — the difference between how men and women think. It is likely to draw a smile. Note the good prop.

Favorite quote: “men’s brains are very unique!… we’ve got boxes everywhere and the rule is, the boxes don’t touch…” and “Women’s brains are a big ball of wire and everything is connected.” And, on this latter point, it is hard not for me to make a reference to the opportunity for connectedness on the ‘Net.

Springboks’ De Villiers as Coach

Springboks LogoPeter de Villiers Springboks CoachAnother move for equality

Peter de Villiers has been named as the first black coach of the rugby union world champions South African Spingboks. Coming on the heels of the World Cup victory (in October 2007), this is quite a move. And, after just having posted about Norway’s historic move to increase the presence of women on corporate boards, this news from South Africa represents another very strong statement in creating an equitable world. I add a prior post about Cheeky Watson for some background context for RSA rugby.

A controversial decision

Currently the successful coach of the Springboks’ under-21, Peter de Villiers (right courtesy of Getty Images) takes over from Jake White, who led the Springboks to victory in the World Cup. Jack White, whose contract expired at the end of 2007, goes out with the highest distinction, although on an acrimonious ending (dispute with the SARU). That de Villiers led the under-21s to the IRB world title in 2005 is certainly a worthy achievement. He also produced a third place finish in 2004, a second-place finish to the hosts in France in 2006 and, last year, coached the Emerging Springbok side to the IRB Nations Cup title in Romania. All very good results. Nonetheless, the decision to select de Villiers trumped a vote of 77% by the South African Rugby Players’ Association (SARPA) in favor of the acclaimed Pretoria Bulls Super 14 coach, Heyneke Meyer, raised eyebrows. It is worth noting that of the two other candidates, there was also Chester Williams, a black Springboks’ winger who participated in the Boks’ 1995 RWC victory.

Rugby Reasons

Being upfront about the political nature of the appointment, South African Rugby Union (SARU) president Oregan Hoskins said in a press conference, “I want to be honest with South Africa and say that the appointment was not entirely made for rugby reasons.” As the UK Times says, de Villiers’ request to fans to look beyond the colour of his skin was undermined by Hoskins, when he said that race had been a determining factor. We’ll have to see how the governing organizations get behind him.

Certainly, given the lopsided presence of white players in the national rugby team, it is time that RSA rugby reflected and took advantage of the great pool of athletes from their entire population. De Villiers has created history by becoming the first black person in the role. I hope that he is able to produce good results — it is hard yet to imagine that RSA will replicate in 2011 its IRB World Cup. That said, de Villiers’ contract is only for two years! I will be curious to see if/how he includes Cheeky Watson’s son, Luke Watson, in the Springboks team.

In any event, I salute the decision and wish the Springboks success with this landmark decision.

Others blogging on the topic, although I notice a dearth of personal commentary outside of the RSA blogs:

KEO.CO.ZA – the official online partner to SA Rugby (and Cricket) – tons of threads including:
De Villiers wants Meyer in the mix
The Return of Quotas
Ou Grote (South African Rugby News)
Rugby Heaven (NZ rugby blog)
22 Drop-Out
Bruin Developement Forum

News articles on the appointment:
BBC report
ABC from Australia
Scrum
UK Times on Line

Norway quota for women on corporate boards

A bold decision

I read with interest about Norway’s legislated quota for women’s presence on publicly traded private limited liability (“ASA”) corporate boards. The improvements in equality on boards in Norway were not coming fast enough*, so, in 2005, the government put in place a minimum quota of 40% of women on every ASA corporate board by the end of 2007, with consequences if not met. In the last six months of 2007, it is estimated that 400 additional women were voted onto corporate boards, making Norway by far and away the country with the highest representation of women on boards. Quoting from GlobeWomen.org, “In its 2007 study, Women Directors in the Fortune Global 200 Companies’ released in Berlin at the June Global Summit of Women, Corporate Women Directors International reported that only 11.2% of corporate board seats are held by women in the 200 largest companies in the world.” The successful implementation of the Norwegian law has been observed by many other countries (including Canada, Spain) seeking similar diversity. I note that Sweden apparently balked on a similar quota initiative five years ago.

A 40% target

Having been set the objective of 40% female representation on boards, the targeted Norwegian companies are now on average at 37%, at parity with the 37% of their women parliamentarians, although below the true parity achieved in PM Jens Stoltenberg’s current cabinet (8/16)**. The very least one can say is that the Norwegians are putting their money with their mouthes are…and with great courage. I was able to find, for example, many sites with stats on gender equality (including this one at Statistics Norway).

I was intrigued by a blogger’s following explanation for the strong presence of women in Norwegian society:

usini wrote (find in the comments section): “I think that one has to be very careful not to generalise from the particular. Women in Norway always had quite a strong position politically, because, so I believe, of the economy being based on fishing and sea-faring which meant that a lot of men were absent when decisions had to be made. Thus a solution which is suitable for them may not necessarily apply to other cultures.”

One of the items to watch closely in the near future will be how the Government deals with non-compliant companies. This Guardian article identifies the scope of the problem with 111 yet to comply and 5 companies that still have zero women on their boards. Clearly, closing down those companies will be an explosive solution. The second evolution to watch carefully is how the board members are re-elected… When/if a woman leaves a board, will she systematically have to be replaced by another woman?

Sensitive topic

This quota law was naturally a topic of great sensitivity. Quotas are a generally reviled policy. And most of the commentary I have read on this particular policy are predictably unfavorable. Certainly the ambition of going from 6% to 40% was enormous, if also artificial, over such a short period of time. As much as some Norwegian unions might have been delighted by the quota, most of the private sector was up in arms and there is probably continuing concern that foreign companies will look less favorably at installing in Norway. As reported by the Centre for Corporate Diversity, there was also concern that some of the 500 concerned companies would change their ASA status to avoid this law. That particular concern has proved unwarranted. Meanwhile, even the Norwegian Gender blog, authored by Ragnhild Sohlberg, has put up reservations as to the success and/or desirability of a quota system. Susan Gunelius at Women on Business also issued reservations against quotas. In any event, finding qualified talent in those numbers over such a short time frame does not appear healthy–and one has to imagine some negative fallout in the first few years. Nonetheless, I applaud the courage of their convictions.

In many ways, the trick for the Norwegians will now be to validate the new status to show that corporate performance is at least as good as in the past (if not better) in order to encourage other companies (such as Luxottica, which has committed to 30% of women in management positions) if not other governments, to follow suit. Proving that the performance has otherwise been altered by a higher presence of women will ultimately fall to the numbers and bottom line. The question is whether the benchmarks and interpretation of those numbers will be clear.

Looking at the global playing field, it is interesting to note how a smaller country can become, in a certain fashion, the experimental laboratory for other bigger countries. Not that the context in any country can perfectly translate for other countries, but this policy and its successful implementation could surely give rise to new initiatives in other countries. Its failure would only reinforce the “I told you so” against quotas. In the same vein of looking at “small” country initiatives, I am tracking Norway’s actions on the ecological front (including this Green Prison initiative in a prior post) where they are pioneers as well. The least one can say is that they are attempting to bring about change. And since the end is desirable…to what extent does that justify the means? Any thoughts?

Other blogs on this topic:

Yvonne Roberts speaks out in favor on Guardian Unlimited. The comments are quite heated.
Ibibo Blogs – One blog supporting the notion that Quota works…
Fresh Inc. — 40% of business school students in Norway are women.
NYT Article from Jan 2006 — Women more reasonably represented in politics & media…
Mises Blog – The Ludwig von Mises Institute is the research and educational center of classical liberalism, libertarian political theory, and the Austrian School of economics. Even this post inspired a lot of debased, inflammatory comments (from 2005)…
Reinvention Inc... where I picked up the story about Spain following Norway’s example (not on the imposition of a quota, but an incentive to have higher female representation. In 2006, Spain had under 4% female representation on corporate boards.
CareerDiva – with a balanced comment section to date (just 5 comments).

————–

* The initial request from the Norwegian government was made in 2002, with a non-binding law established in 2003. In the following three years, the percent of women present on boards rose from a poor 6% to an ‘average’ 11%. I read a 2003 article from Time magazine on the topic… makes for good recent retrospective information.

** I found a blog posting on Writes Like She Talks, referring to a Huffington Post posting from 2006 that discusses the representation of women in politics across the world, where the USA ranked 67th. Write Like She Talks has an updated blog site now, here.

First impressions of Sweden

As is my wont on any first time in a country, I love to jot down the first impressions that hit me… if only to confirm some generalizations and, probably, regurgitate very obvious observations.

  • First suprise, the “noise free” Stockholm (Arlanda) airport, whereby no general announcements are made and people are very respectful of each person’s [aural] space. In the streets, it is considered gauche to laugh out loud (shows signs of being drunken/disorderly). Even kids seemed to be quieter.
  • Going to get a taxi outside at the airport, we found five taxi drivers with their hand up, standing beside their taxi, not uttering a word. You are invited to chose the driver you want (very egalitarian in a certain sense…) as they each represent different companies.
  • In a showing of equality, passengers will frequently sit in the front seat alongside the taxi driver.
  • At the offices, there is generally a basket of fruit to encourage healthy eating.
  • Women. Aside from the 48% of women in the Swedish parliament, and the fact that men take responsibility for half of the household and child-caring chores (you are just as likely to find a man pushing a pram as a woman), women give systematically very firm handshakes (a true pleasure). Naturally, I avow that the Swedish women were attractive.
  • It is most usual for boys to go out for dinner as a group of boys and girls with girls.
  • There is no [commonly used] word for “please” in Swedish.
  • The Swedes like to be punctual (very appreciated as far as I was concerned).
  • A mile in Sweden is 10 kilometers! Had no idea there was another measurement for a mile (in addition to the nautical mile).

At last, aside from learning a few key words and phrases, I was able to talk about what the word “morsan” means…which is how I have affectionately called my mother since my teen years. Morsan is slang Swedish for “mother.”