Why California’s New Bill is a Step Forward for Gender Equality

In the past decade, the topic of gender equality has evolved greatly with positive developments in helping to close the existing gender gap between men and women. The global gender gap has narrowed to an estimated 68 percent, but it will take about 108 years for it to completely close, according to the World Economic Forum. 

Although this might sound extremely discouraging to all of us women out there, there are many big changes that are happening — and that will continue to happen — in the following years. One of these new changes is a California bill that requires publicly traded corporations that are based in the state to have at least one woman on its board of directors by the end of 2019, or else they must pay a fine, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The bill has been met by backlash from those who think that this new rule will put inexperienced women in places that they aren’t qualified for. This argument might sound reasonable but in the US and many other countries, women don’t have a lot of seats at the table in corporations. In many instances as well, women are perceived as the “weaker gender” who aren’t cutthroat enough to take on a tough executive role in large corporations. This gender stereotype of the "weak woman" leads to corporations turning away several qualified women from occupying high, corporate positions like being on the board of directors.

Also, studies by McKinsey have shown that companies with good scores of gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns higher than expected. This goes to show that an environment where gender equality is fostered can help with improving work performance and incorporating more diversity in the company.

If the bill continues moving forward, it will also highlight the underrepresentation of women on corporate boards and show the need for gender diversity in corporate America. This means more conversations on gender gap in the US, more conversations on equal wage and more conversations on gender diversity in the workplace.

If we also want to look at models that have successfully implemented similar laws, we can turn our sight east toward Western Europe. Countries like Finland, Sweden and Norway have many laws that require women to be on corporate boards. Even in Italy, the government pushed forward many campaigns designed to influence companies to have women on board; this sharply increased the representation of Italian women in such positions.

Now, with more women holding over 30 percent of seats. In Norway, the country, which was the first to pass a gender quota for boards more than 10 years ago, has women constituting a large portion of corporate directors’ boards thanks to similar laws. And although these laws haven’t changed decisions greatly in corporations based in these countries, it has increased gender diversity.

This doesn’t mean that the laws have failed. They have been successful in bringing women to the forefront of a profession long and still dominated by men in suits. Women should not simply wait for companies to just get on board (pun-intended) with gender equality. This “go with the flow” attitude will make the process take forever. There must be a demand for it and if the only way of achieving that is through mandated rules then they must be passed and expanded. In the corporate world where female talent is majorly underutilized, women must push to have their voices heard in this industry.

As college women, rules like these will open many doors, especially for women who are looking to go into the business and finance field when career levels rise as female representation decreases. Companies will be required to assess an applicant based on the qualifications that they have rather than their gender. They will be able to bring their diverse experiences forward. With a new year ahead of us, women can expect many leaps for gender diversity that may not have to take 108 years.