They are offered a higher position than they hold, but they refuse to go. Professor at Essec, Viviane de Beaufort studied this phenomenon known in the United States as“renounce”, which she translates into French as “stepping aside” for women. “I wanted to start a reflection on the career drivers and career choices of women leaders”, explains the director of the European Center for Law and Economics and of the Women Empowerment program, of which the Women Board Ready Essec Exec is a variant. Her 280 pupils answered the questions of this committed teacher who, with this training, has supported the implementation of the Copé-Zimmermann law on quotas for women on boards since 2011.
This study, to which the author presented Challenges preview, timely. While it affects multiple business executives, it seems to echo the political news directly, with several women recently refusing to offer the position of Prime Minister. Thirty years after Edith Cresson, the only woman to have exercised this function under the presidency of François Mitterrand, Emmanuel Macron would like to promote a woman to begin her second five-year term. So far without success. Véronique Bédague, the former cabinet director of Manuel Valls in Matignon and today number 2 of the Nexity real estate group, Valérie Rabault, president of the socialist group at the National Assembly, or even Christelle Morençais, LR president of the Pays -de-la- region Loire, would have rejected the proposal. At issue: respect for their values.
Challenges – Why this study now?
Viviane de Beaufort- In 2011, in the wake of the Copé-Zimmermann law, I carried out a first study on “Women and power”. This law was supposed to improve corporate governance and women rushed to run for the office of director. I thought it would be interesting to redo an inventory, in connection with the adoption of the Rixain law enacted last December, which provides for quotas for women in governing bodies in stages: 30% of women on management committees in March 2026 ( compared to 22.4% in the SBF 120 Codir in March 2022), then 40% in March 2029. I was wondering if women would respond to this new field of possibility.
How did you proceed?
I appealed to my community of certified Women Board Ready women by sending them a questionnaire about their career choices. For instance, Have you ever turned down a promotion, a managerial job, an expatriation or a proposal from another company? Other questions concern the reasons for these rejections (personal, family, values) and what they would like to change in support of careers in the business world. For those who feel like it, I have offered longer and more detailed interviews.
What conclusions do you draw from this survey?
My surprise is that this is a clash of values rather than a management problem. On the one hand, there are the idealists who accept that they think they can change things. On the other hand, a lot of disappointment with the way the company works, and women who believe that what they are offered is too far from the field. They feel they should spend too much time on political meetings and initiatives because they are not expected to cause a stir. These women are far more numerous than one might think.
Specifically, what could be the consequences of this “step by the side” of women?
This is likely to be the nasty surprise of the Rixain law. This is why I intend to publish this survey in full at the end of May and to organize a round table to raise awareness among companies. This is a long-term argument. This is reminiscent of the “great resignation” phenomenon that appeared in the United States in the summer of 2020, following the Covid-19 pandemic. Will it happen to us too? You have to ask yourself the question. We have already seen phenomena of burnt and resignation among the young. If women are also involved, the impact will be considerable. Because the consequence is the inner-self that continues.
Are there any remedies against this trend?
The law is not enough. Managers must realize, as some pioneering companies have done, that this situation is deadly, and that they must implement equality policies in the medium term, changing some rules of the game if necessary. I tell them: open your chakras and look at things differently.
The news highlighted the refusal of several women to be appointed to lead the next government. Does it match what you describe in your study?
Absolutely, it’s the same process. There is no difference between the private and public sectors from this point of view. My study evokes a fundamental question of meaning, accelerated by the crisis, which leads women to renounce, not their ambitions and their ideal, but the classical system. It is no longer enough to offer them the job, many of them give themselves the right to set conditions and refuse when it does not make much sense. Perhaps Emmanuel Macron should have said from the start that he would keep his own transitional government and that he would carry out the big reshuffle after the legislative elections. Whether in business or politics, today the door opens but women set their terms or say “thank you, but no thank you”.