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When a boardroom diversity push runs into cultural norms

May 18, 2021, 12:49 PM UTC

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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Child tax credit checks will hit parents’ bank accounts in July, General Catalyst bets big on ‘civic tech,’ and the UAE’s boardroom diversity push is off to a slow start. Have a great Tuesday.

– Slow start. Countries across the globe are trying to increase the share of women on their public company boardswith good reason. Nations like the U.S. and U.K. are starting from points of modest representation: women account for 29% of S&P 500 boards and 34% of FTSE 350 directors.

And then there is the United Arab Emirates, where women account for 4% of board members at firms on the country’s two major stock exchanges.

That’s quite a hole to dig out of, but the UAE is giving it a go. In March, Securities and Commodities Authority announced that all listed companies must have at least one female director.

Two months in, there’s been no rush of female director appointments. In fact, women have made up just four of the 23 new board appointments since the new rule was announced, according to Bloomberg.

One reason for the sluggish progress may be cultural expectations that didn’t vanish overnight. Fatma Hussain, the only woman on the board of Dubai-based logistics firm Aramex PJSC, told Bloomberg that some women are hesitant to take roles that require late nights or lots of interaction with men. Hussain says some of the women she’s interviewed have asked their parents for permission before accepting an offer because “there are many males.”

Even with such hurdles, the UAE seems serious about enforcing its new rule. Penalties for non-compliance may range from warnings to a fine to referral for public prosecution.

We know from places like India that gender quotas are not a perfect solution. And the case of the UAE is a good reminder that any boardroom diversity push must consider societal contexts that might stymie progress and figure out how to accommodate such norms—or push back against them.

Claire Zillman
claire.zillman@fortune.com
@clairezillman

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Check, please. $300 child tax credit checks are set to start hitting parents' bank accounts on July 15, the IRS and Department of the Treasury yesterday. Around 39 million households will qualify for the benefit. Fortune

- Court's in session. The Supreme Court yesterday agreed to hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. That case could provide the opportunity for the court's conservative majority to take aim at Roe v. Wade. Jackson relates to a restrictive abortion law in Mississippi, and the court's decision will impact those types of state laws seeking to outlaw abortion at very early stages of pregnancy. Slate

- Dangerous swipe. Dating app companies are ill-equipped to handle allegations of sexual assault or rape against their users, a Columbia Journalism Investigations/ProPublica project finds. The standards for when and how to remove someone from an app like Tinder or Bumble differ across companies and sometimes depend on individual employees' judgment. ProPublica

- Civics lesson. General Catalyst partner Katherine Boyle will lead the venture capital firm's new "civic vertical," backing businesses that tackle problems traditionally addressed by government. From housing startups to workforce re-skilling efforts, the firm is betting big on "civic tech." Fortune

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: JetBlue named Ursula Hurley, head of treasury and investor relations, acting CFO. Sherry Ann Mohan will leave her role as CFO for Goldman Sachs's consumer business to become CFO for business banking at JPMorgan. Bank of America SVP in the global diversity and inclusion organization Sandra Quince will be the first CEO of the organization Paradigm for Parity. Time's Up hired as VP of communications Chelsea Fuller, previously senior communications manager for Blackbird, a communications firm focusing on racial and social justice organizations. Unisys hired Accenture's Teresa Poggenpohl as CMO. Zoominfo named Conga's Chetna Mahajan chief information officer. Market research company Suzy named Katrina Engelman CMO. Susan Tousi, chief product officer for the biotech company Illumina, will become the company's chief commercial officer. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Worth the wait? The Sanofi/GlaxoSmithKline vaccine against COVID-19 has been long-delayed. But the shot, developed in part by the CEO Emma Walmsley-led GSK, is finally expected to move into large-scale human trials later this year. One trial will specifically focus on a South African COVID-19 variant. Wall Street Journal

- Capitalism critic. Lynn Forester de Rothschild, founder of the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism, made her own fortune before marrying into the Rothschild dynasty. In a new interview, she talks about why she's now spending her time and energy pushing for higher taxes on the wealthy and regulation of big business. New York Times 

- A tricky balance. Vice President Kamala Harris is widely expected to once again run for President in the not-so-distant future. But she's walking a tightrope at the moment, required to not let her own political ambitions outshine her current role or her boss. This story examines her tenure so far and the challenges ahead: The Atlantic

ON MY RADAR

Hollywood has finally deemed Black women worthy of feel-good TV New York Times

How Tina Fey is making up for her past Slate

This year, Miss Universe got political The Cut

PARTING WORDS

"Whenever anybody talks about elitism—excuse me, we’re talking about nourishment. We’re talking about pay for employees. We’re talking about climate change." 

-Alice Waters, the chef and owner behind California restaurant Chez Panisse, now celebrating its 50th anniversary

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