Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


EU ponders new quotas on women board members

April 2012

The European Union is conducting consultations on mandatory quotas for female representation on company boards, coinciding with a groundswell of corporate support for similar measures in the US.

Legislation could follow the three-month EU consultation, which could set a level of anything from 20% to 60%. The proportion of women on boards in large EU-based businesses is 13.7%, up from 11.8% in 2010.  

Many European countries, including Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Spain, have already legislated to remedy the gender discrepancy.

Such moves have always been opposed in the UK, where around 14% of board members are women and where companies favour a voluntary approach.

Representation varies widely across Europe – for example, the figure is 28% in Sweden, but only 4% in Cyprus.

The consultation document asks questions about quotas, timeframes, the level of coverage and exceptions from legislation. The results will be fed into "an assessment of possible EU-level measures to enhance female participation in economic decision-making, which will inform the [European] Commission's decision on whether to propose action and on the form it should take".

The Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, who opened the consultation, insists that action must be taken: "The lack of women in top jobs in the business world harms Europe's competitiveness and hampers economic growth ... Personally, I am not a great fan of quotas. However, I like the results they bring.

"I believe it is high time Europe breaks the glass ceiling that bars female talent from getting to the top in Europe's listed companies. I will work closely with the European Parliament and all member states to bring about change."

In the US, meanwhile, a campaign for female membership of boards to reach at least 30% has been started by a coalition of chief executives, investors, CSR professionals and women's organisations.

The 30% Coalition says the 'glacial progress' on women on boards needs renewed commitment and, targeting executives rather than government, it has urged every US listed company to aim for 30% by the end of 2015.

One coalition member said: "When it comes to bringing diversity to corporate boards, progress has come to a halt. It's time to set ambitious goals rather than settle for the current inertia.

"We formed the 30% Coalition to move the needle on an issue that is critical to women and to the success of American business."

Female board representation in the US is ahead of that in most European countries at about 16%, but progress has stalled in recent years.

EU | Europe | Equality

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