Zapateros' choice of Cabinet ministers is a symbolic step towards removing the barriers to opportunity.
His so-called 40 per cent rule demands, but does not require, that by 2010 any company negotiating for public contracts should appoint women to 40 per cent of the places on their boards of directors.
The rule will have only a limited impact on the Spanish Parliament, where women already make up 36.6 per cent of the deputies, the fifth-highest figure in Europe, but it could open spectacular opportunities at local government level, and particularly in the boardroom, for Spain's female university students, who outnumber male undergraduates.
This rule was extended in 2004 to state-owned companies. Then in 2006, the Government legislated to impose an extraordinary ultimatum on Norway's public limited companies - either have a minimum of 40 per cent of women on the company board by January 1, 2008, or be closed down. Despite the dire prophecies of economic catastrophe, the law has come into force without driving out any major company.
"The most alarmist people told us the economy would suffer, that investors would flee Oslo, that the level of competence on the boards would plunge," Marit Hoel, the head of Norway's Centre for Corporate Diversity said. "What we've seen is that the economy is doing very well, that the investors are still there, and that the women who have been appointed to the boards are more highly educated, more international and younger than their male counterparts."
...one step back...
Some of New Zealand's most powerful businesswomen have called for companies to improve diversity on their boards after a blighting report from the Human Rights Commission showed a dearth of female directors.
There are only 45 female directors in the stock market's top 100 companies and they represent just 8.65 per cent of 624 board directorships.
I'm not terribly hot on the Norwegian idea of mandating that every company should have a diversity quota on the board, but there's noting unfair about the government insisting that every company that wants to do business with it demonstrate some commitment to diversity - especially since keeping women off teh boards just doesn't make sense.