California may mandate a woman in the boardroom, but businesses are fighting it

California is moving toward becoming the first state to require companies to have women on their boards –assuming the idea could survive a likely court challenge.

Sparked by debates around fair pay, sexual harassment and workplace culture, two female state senators are spearheading a bill to promote greater gender representation in corporate decision-making. Of the 445 publicly traded companies in California, a quarter of them lack a single woman in their boardrooms.

SB 826, which won Senate approval with only Democratic votes and has until the end of August to clear the Assembly, would require publicly held companies headquartered in California to have at least one woman on their boards of directors by end of next year. By 2021, companies with boards of five directors must have at least two women, and companies with six-member boards must have at least three women. Firms failing to comply would face a fine.

“Gender diversity brings a variety of perspectives to the table that can help foster new and innovative ideas,” said Democratic Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara, who is sponsoring the bill with Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins of San Diego.”It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s good for a company’s bottom line.”

Yet critics of the bill say it violates the federal and state constitutions. Business associations say the rule would require companies to discriminate against men wanting to serve on boards, as well as conflict with corporate law that says the internal affairs of a corporation should be governed by the state law in which it is incorporated. This bill would apply to companies headquartered in California.

Jennifer Barrera, senior vice president of policy at the California Chamber of Commerce, argued against the bill and said it only focuses “on one aspect of diversity” by singling out gender.

“This bill basically mandates that we hire the woman above anybody else who we may be fulfilling for purposes of diversity,” she said at a hearing.

Similarly, a legislative analysis of the bill cautioned that it could get challenged on equal protection grounds, and that it would be difficult to defend, requiring the state to prove a compelling government interest in such a quota system for a private corporation.

Five years ago, California was the first state to pass a resolution, authored by Jackson, calling on public companies to increase gender diversity. In response, about 20 percent of the companies headquartered in the state followed through with putting women on their boards, according to the research firm Board Governance Research. But the resolution was non-binding and expired in December 2016.

Other countries have been more proactive. Norway in 2007 was the first country to pass a law requiring 40 percent of corporate board seats be held by women, and Germany set a 30 percent requirement in 2015. Spain, France and Italy have also set quotas for public firms.

In California, smaller companies have fewer female directors. Out of 50 companies with the lowest revenues, 48 percent have no female directors, according to Board Governance Research. Only 8 percent of their board seats are held by women.

The 2017 study said larger companies did a better job of appointing women, with all 50 of the highest-revenue companies having at least one female director and 23 percent of board seats held by women.

“The main issue is still that a lot of companies headquartered here don’t have women on their boards,” said Annalisa Barrett, clinical professor of finance at the University of San Diego’s School of Business. “We quite often like to think of California as progressive and a leader on social issues, so that’s kind of disappointing.”

Barrett publishes an annual report of women on boards in California. Public companies are major employers in the state, and their financial performance has a big impact on public pension funds, mutual funds and investment portfolios. “Financial performance does really impact the broader community,” she said.

The National Association of Women Business Owners, sponsor of the bill, says an economy as big as California’s ought to “set an example globally for enlightened business practice.” In a letter of support, the association cites studies that suggest corporations with female directors perform better than those with no women on their boards.

One University of California, Davis study did find that companies with more women serving on their boards saw a higher return on assets and equity, but the author acknowledges this may not suggest a cause-and-effect.

Xiaomi goes after global markets with two new Android One phones

Xiaomi gave Google’s well-intentioned but somewhat-stalled Android One project a major boost last year when it unveiled its first device under the program, Mi A1. That’s now joined by not one but two sequel devices, after the Chinese phone maker unveiled the Mi A2 and Mi A2 Lite at an event in Spain today.

Xiaomi in Spain? Yes, that’s right. International growth is a major part of the Xiaomi story now that it is a listed business, and Spain is one of a handful of countries in Europe where Xiaomi is aiming to make its mark. These two new A2 handsets are an early push and they’ll be available in over 40 countries, including Spain, France, Italy and 11 other European markets.

Both phones run on Android One — so none of Xiaomi’s iOS-inspired MIUI Android fork — and charge via type-C USB. The 5.99-inch A2 is the more premium option, sporting a Snapdragon 660 processor and 4GB or 6GB RAM with 32GB, 64GB or 128GB in storage. There’s a 20-megapixel front camera and dual 20-megapixel and 16-megapixel cameras on the rear. On-device storage ranges between 32GB, 64GB and 128GB.

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The Mi A2 Lite is the more budget option that’s powered by a lesser Snapdragon 625 processor with 3GB or 4GB RAM, and 32GB or 64GB storage options. It comes with a smaller 5.84-inch display, there’s a 12- and 5-megapixel camera array on the reverse and a front-facing five-megapixel camera.

The A2 is priced from €249 to €279 ($291-$327) based on specs. The A2 Lite will sell for €179 or €229 ($210 or $268), against based on RAM and storage selection.

The 40 market availability mirrors the A1 launch last year, but on this occasion, Xiaomi has been busy preparing the ground in a number of countries, particularly in Europe. It has been in Spain for the past year, but it also launched local operations in France and Italy in May and tied up with CK Hutchison to sell phones in other parts of the continent via its 3 telecom business. While it isn’t operational in the U.S., Xiaomi has expanded into Mexico and it has set up partnerships with local retailers in dozens of other countries.

Xiaomi has been successful with its move into India, where it one of the top smartphone sellers, but it has not yet replicated that elsewhere outside of China so far.

China is, as you’d expect, the primary revenue market but Xiaomi is increasingly less dependent on its homeland. For 2017 sales, China represented 72 percent, but it had been 94 percent and 87 percent, respectively, in 2015 and 2016.

Oval Money app launches its investment products for millennials

Back in April Oval Money launched with the idea of combining expense tracking, saving, and investing into one app, while also adding a social element by enabling its community of users to share tips and suggestions to one another. The idea is to help users grow their savings in less time by teaching them to monitor spending habits and make saving virtually automatic. The company has raised €1.2M in funding, largely from Italian investors.

The startup is launching a raft of investment products for socially-conscious savers.

Beginning with three funds – supporting gender diversity in boardrooms, flexible working and the brands that millennials trust – the investments marketplace will be available to customers in the smartphone app this summer.

The “Women at the Table” fund will allow investors to support companies that ensure that at least 20% of board members are women, while a “Belong but Work Remote” fund promotes the growing flexible jobs economy.

“Generation Millennials” will track the leading consumer brands that millennials are into most.

The three are the first of 20 cause-themed products to be released in the marketplace.

Oval co-founder Benedetta Arese Lucini said: “Young people want to invest in the causes they care about. We’ve been listening to millennials for a long time, and these products will mean not only can we help people start to save towards their futures, but we can provide them with the opportunity to invest in companies which are really making a difference in the world.”

Oval Money uses machine learning to review the individual spending habits of its users, and adjusts saving automatically.

A beta-test of the marketplace begins today. By updating the app, Ovalers will be able to go through an initial set of questions about what type of investor they are and will be encouraged to share with friends. The users that share the most will get a privileged access to the beta

The firm will also launch opportunities to invest in cryptocurrency, insurance and other alternative finance products over the rest of the year.

Also today, it has launched its product to 20,000 tobacconists across Italy via Intesa SanPaolo Group’s bank Banca 5, reaching a so-far-unserved demographic of immigrants and young people. Banca 5, which already provides a physical banking experience through tobacconists, will now be able to offer consumers new, online services through Oval Money’s app.

Apple Pay is now available in Italy

 Apple’s wireless payment system Apple Pay is now up and running in Italy. The company partnered with a handful of banks and popular retailers. Italian customers can now add their payment cards to the Wallet app on their iPhone and Apple Watch. Apple Pay currently supports Boon, Carrefour Banca and UniCredit. In the coming months, other financial institutions are also going to add Apple… Read More

Uber is now banned in Italy for unfair competition

 While Uber is fighting Waymo at home, the American company is also having issues abroad. As Reuters reported, an Italian court has ordered Uber to stop all activities in all of Italy. The court says Uber represents unfair competition for taxi drivers. In particular, the court in Rome says that Uber is a transportation company but doesn’t respect transportation laws — rates… Read More

In the aftermath of Italy’s quake, tech supported relief efforts

Italian firefighters and soldier walk amid ruins during operation aiming at reopening the road in Rio, a little village near Amatrice, central Italy two days after a 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck the region killing some 267 people and injuring at least 367 people. 
An increasingly forlorn search for victims of the earthquake that brought carnage to central Italy entered a third day on August 26 but no one has been pulled alive from the piles of collapsed masonry since August 24 evening. / AFP / MARIO LAPORTA        (Photo credit should read MARIO LAPORTA/AFP/Getty Images) On August 24th, a warm summer night, all of Europe was shaken when an earthquake measuring 6.2 on the moment magnitude scale, hit central Italy. “The town [Amatrice] doesn’t exist anymore…..it’s all gone,” said Sergio Pirozzi, mayor of the small town of Amatrice during an interview immediately after the tragedy. More than 290 people died, and dozens more are still… Read More

The Italian (Startup) Renaissance

tuscany italy landscape 2016 couldn’t have started better for Italy’s economy and tech sector. In January, Cisco signed an agreement with the Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR) to provide training to teachers and students through the Cisco Networking Academy. As the first step in developing the Italian startup ecosystem, the tech giant is pursuing investment opportunities together… Read More

Apple agrees to pay $348M to settle tax dispute with Italy

Italy, E.U.

MILAN (By Agnieszka Flak, Reuters) – Italy’s tax office said on Wednesday it had reached a deal with U.S. tech giant Apple in a dispute over taxes but declined to comment on details of the settlement.

La Repubblica newspaper reported on Wednesday that Apple had agreed to pay 318 million euros ($347.76 million), in line with the figure the paper said the Italian agency had asked for.

“Apple has agreed to our request,” an agency spokesman said. He would not say how much the iPhone maker had agreed to pay.

Italian prosecutors have been investigating allegations that Apple failed to pay corporate taxes to the tune of 879 million euros ($964 million), sources told Reuters earlier this year.

Apple could not immediately be reached for comment.

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