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The city of Paris was fined for putting too many women in charge

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo looks on while wearing a mask
Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
“This fine is obviously absurd," Hidalgo said. "And more than that, it’s unjust, irresponsible, and dangerous."
  • Annabelle Timsit
By Annabelle Timsit

Geopolitics reporter

Paris city hall will pay €90,000 ($110,000) for not respecting gender quotas in 2018—but unusually this time, it’s because it put too many women in leadership positions.

Under the 2012 update of a 1983 law (links in French), new appointments of senior civil servants in a variety of fields have to include at least 40% men and 40% women.

But in 2018, according to a recently released report (French)(pdf, p. 51) from the Ministry of Transformation and Civil Service, the city of Paris appointed 16 new directors and deputy directors—11 women and 5 men. This means women made up 69% of the city’s leadership.

The report notes that “this very high figure strongly contributes to the feminization of senior management and managerial jobs” in the city, but “results in non-compliance with the legal objective of 40% of appointments of people of each sex in these jobs.” Hence the fine, which left-wing Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said she would deposit at the ministry in person, alongside her female deputies and the female heads of political groups in Parliament.

“This fine is obviously absurd,” Hidalgo said in a meeting of the city council on Tuesday (Dec. 15). “And more than that, it’s unjust, irresponsible, and dangerous.” She then made the case for nominating more women than men to new public service leadership positions because “France is lagging behind” in gender equality.

But as Amélie de Montchalin, the minister in charge of transformation and civil service, pointed out on Twitter, this fine is the exception, not the rule. A 2019 law waived penalties for employers who deviate from the 40% target without creating an overall gender imbalance in their leadership. This means specific teams may have more male employees than female employees, for example, as long as the overall leadership respects the 40% quota.

With 47% of women in senior management and managerial positions, the city of Paris meets those criteria, but the law hadn’t come into force in time for it to avoid the 2018 fine. De Montchalin said Paris’s fine would be used to pay for “concrete actions to promote women in public service.” Paris is also not the only city facing a fine for its 2018 gender balance:

This incident could spark a renewed debate in France over gender quotas, which some advocates say are not the best tool to ensure gender equality in the workplace. It could also distract from the fact that hiring more women doesn’t automatically make a workplace more equal. It’s also about pay equity, discrimination, reasonable accommodations, and working conditions.

A 2015 report (French)(pdf, p. 5), for example, showed that among the 2.4 million-strong workforce of the state civil service, women who give birth to their first child made on average make 2.6% less money three years after the birth than women who hadn’t given birth to a child. That gap grew to 3.5% after the birth of a second child and 12.4% for a third child.

Case in point: In 2018, women made up only 37% of first-time appointments (French) to leadership positions in the three different branches of the civil service overall. In her tweet to Hidalgo, de Montchalin said, “the cause of women deserves better.”

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