Journal Article

Gender parity and state legitimacy: From public office to corporate boards

Julie C. Suk

in International Journal of Constitutional Law

Published on behalf of The New York University School of Law

Volume 10, issue 2, pages 449-464
Published in print March 2012 | ISSN: 1474-2640
Published online March 2012 | e-ISSN: 1474-2659 | DOI:
Gender parity and state legitimacy: From public office to corporate boards

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  • Constitutional and Administrative Law
  • UK Politics


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In most countries around the world, women make up a small minority of corporate boards of directors, which remain predominantly male. In the last decade, many European countries have adopted laws that impose mandatory quotas on corporate boards of directors to achieve gender balance in corporate leadership. In the United States, by contrast, corporate board diversity is largely a matter left to corporations’ voluntary initiatives, not law, and the “business case for diversity” dominates the debate. This article traces the evolution of the corporate board gender balance laws in Norway and France. Although it is often said that the presence of women in corporate leadership is “good for business” in Europe, I argue that the new private-sector gender quotas are best understood as mechanisms to improve the democratic legitimacy of the state. In France, the proposal to impose gender quotas on corporate boards emerged shortly after the law imposing similar quotas on candidates for elected office. However, the French constitution had to be amended before each law was ultimately adopted. The unique constitutional genesis of the corporate gender quotas laws in France illustrates the connection between the “business case for diversity”and foundational concerns about the legitimacy of democratic policy-making. This connection is more apparent in European countries than it could be in the United States, due largely to the corporatist frameworks of governance in the former. The comparison suggests that corporatist traditions may open up opportunities for the pursuit of gender equality which are absent from the American arena.

Journal Article.  7745 words. 

Subjects: Constitutional and Administrative Law ; UK Politics

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