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Culture and Society: Women in Business

General View

French women are approaching equality to men in terms of education, employment, and status in society. They actively participate in the workplace in all industries and at all levels. In fact, at the beginning of the 20th century, the rate of employment for women was an impressive 80 percent for all women between the ages of 25 and 49, and nearly 90 percent among single women. Marriage and motherhood are not deterrents for French working women, since the government is very supportive of increasing family sizes, decreasing the number of hours worked per week, and ensuring employment for women.

On the other hand, some degree of institutionalized gender bias remains in France. French working women find themselves disproportionately represented in lower wage service sector jobs and, while they are generally better qualified than their male colleagues, they have a tougher time getting jobs and reaching the managerial level. Many women also opt for temporary, part-time, and contractual jobs, widening the significant gap in the earnings of women versus men.

Legal Rights

Women were granted the right to vote in 1944. Political parties are required to have at least 50 percent female members on their election party lists, and female representation in politics is increasing. Into the 21st century, women made up about 40 percent of seats in parliament.

Women have the right to own and manage property independently, even when married. Assets purchased after marriage are considered jointly owned by both partners irrespective of who paid for it under the communauté de biens réduite aux acquêts law, but this can be changed in a pre-nuptial agreement. Inheritance rights are also favorable for women. Women have always had the right to drive and they buy one of every three cars sold in France.

On average, women earn about 11 percent less than men, primarily because of employment in low-wage sectors.

Women in Professions

Over half of working women are employed in civil and local government, shops, service businesses, academics, and supplementary medical services. The service sector employs more women than men, as does the government sector. The technology sector has one of the lowest ratios of female employees.

An early 21st century survey revealed that 75 percent of the top companies in France have women on their boards of directors, with women representing less than 10 percent of the total board members. 

Rural women are becoming as economically active as their urban counterparts. Laws that barred women from certain jobs and night shifts were repealed at the end of the 20th century. There are no dress code restrictions for French women.

French working mothers have various options regarding childcare. Crèches and day nurseries are available for children aged two–and-a-half months to three years. Children aged two to six years can go to nurseries run by the Ministry of Education. The government also provides direct financial aid to encourage childcare at home.

Women as Business Owners

Into the 21st century, about a third of French companies were owned and managed by women, with  numbers increasing. Most were small-scale operations, with just seven percent of them having more than 10 employees. Businesses are typically service-related or related to feminine products like cosmetics or fashion. Many women actively take part in running family businesses, although they do not usually have any formal managerial titles.