Two European Parliament committees backed the Commission’s proposal to have 40% women on company boards, but failed to extend it to executive boards.

The European Commission’s proposal aimed at ensuring gender balance on company boards in Europe received overwhelming support from two Parliament committees yesterday (14 October).

The women’s rights and gender equality committee and the legal affairs committee approved the proposal for a directive, presented by Justice and Fundamental Rights Commissioner Viviane Reding in November 2012.

The proposal requires publicly listed European companies to make sure that by 2020 at least 40% of their non-executive board members are female.

However, the vote excluded small and medium enterprises - companies with less than 250 employees or less than €50 million revenue - from the legislation.

“What is currently a reality in some EU member states will soon be extended to the single market as a whole and all EU listed companies, thereby making the most of the talents of many qualified and highly skilled women," said MEP Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou.

MEPs also voted in favour of sanctions against companies that do not comply with the rules. The rule will require companies to explain the infringement to the authorities and commit to achieving the quota in the future through concrete measures.

Fines “should be imposed for failing to follow transparent and open appointment procedures, rather than for failing to achieve the target”, reads a Parliament statement. "Companies that don’t comply should be mandatorily excluded from public calls for tenders”, MEPs proposed.

Even though the outcome of the vote was clear (40 in favour, 9 against), some politicians expressed disappointment. Greens’ equality spokesperson Marije Cornelissen welcomed the vote but added that “MEPs missed the opportunity” to extend the legislation to executive boards.

"In spite of all the lip service, women are still grossly under-represented on the boards of large European companies, with the share of women in the highest decision-making bodies of the largest publically-listed companies at a mere 16.6%," she said.

"This is not because of a shortage of qualified women, with 60% of university graduates in the EU being women, but because the voluntary approach has unfortunately failed.  Binding obligations for companies have already proven successful in addressing this equality gap in European countries and it is time we built on this success by introducing binding EU-level legislation.”