A new bill submitted to the French parliament this week will, if passed, require half of all board members of leading French companies to be women by 2015.
At present, just 10% of board members in top companies in France are women. The new law would be implemented gradually, with 20% of board seats going to women within 18 months, and 40% by 2014.
The measure is being introduced by Nicholas Sarkozy's centre right government, is likely to have both opposition and support, but the government believes that many MPs support the proposal, and that it is simply an extension of previous measures to promote parity in both politics and the private sector - though these have not always been entirely successful - despite legislation France still has a lower percentage of women MPs (18%) than the UK (19%), although there have been significant increases in local government.
The French Institute of Directors is broadly supportive of the bill, but French businesswomen themselves are divided, with some reluctantly supportive after recognising that no other initiaive seems to have worked.
Jean-François Copé, the leader of President Sarkozy's party in parliament, believes that something dramatic needs to be done to change the current situation. 'We want to create an electro-shock', he says, 'we must do to companies what we did in the public domain a few years ago and impose parity.'
France's initiative comes on the heels of Norway's 2003 legislation which required 40% of board members to be women and threatened companies with closure if they did not comply. After initial opposition the law was implemented, and currently 44% of Norwegian directors are female. Recent figures published by the Cranfield School of Management as part of their 2009 Female FTSE report showed that in the UK 25% of boards were all-male, and just 12% of directors overall were women.