MEPs back quotas to get more women in boardrooms


The European Parliament yesterday (13 March) backed the European Commission’s pledge to create binding rules to increase the number of women in top jobs, if member states have not voluntarily taken action to redress gender imbalance in the workplace.

Adopting a resolution drafted by Liberal Dutch MEP Sophia in't Veld, the Parliament reiterated its call for new laws introducing quotas to boost female representation on corporate boards, should national measures fail to achieve any satisfying result.

“Quotas are a necessary evil, because voluntary measures have got us nowhere,” Sophia in't Veld. “It is now time to act.”

The vote was 361 votes in favour, 268 against with 70 abstentions.

To boost the numbers of women in executive positions in EU companies, the resolution calls on the European Commission to table a legislative proposal to introduce quotas to step up corporate board quotas to 30% by 2015 and 40% by 2020.

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding on 5 March kicked off a three-month debate that could result in more decisive legislative action, a year after she called on companies to take voluntary steps to increase the number of women on boards to 30% by 2015 and 40% by 2020.

The EU executive found in a report that only limited progress towards increasing the number of women on company boards has been achieved one year after Reding called for credible self-regulatory measures.

Just 13.7% of board members at Europe's top firms are women, up from 11.8% in 2010. However, it would still take more than 40 years to reach a significant gender balance (at least 40% of both sexes) at this rate.

Speaking to MEPs, Reding said that proposals to may be put forward later this year. Parliament last called for such mandatory measures in a July 2011 resolution.

German MEP Silvana Koch-Mehrin told EURACTIV that “even if quota as an instrument are controversial, the outcome is convincing. Especially in Germany it is high time for measures to improve gender balance in company boards."

Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain have started to address the situation by adopting legislation that introduces gender quotas for company boards. Denmark, Finland, Greece, Austria and Slovenia have adopted rules on gender balance for the boards of state-owned companies.

Tackle pay gap and boost women in politics

MEPs also called for an EU equal pay target to reduce the gender pay gap by 10% in each member state and  urged EU countries to tackle equal representation in politics, by adopting zipped lists or electoral quotas.

Electoral quotas have been introduced in France, Spain, Belgium, Slovenia, Portugal and Poland, and should therefore be considered as an option, notes the in't Veld resolution.

To ensure gender parity in political decision-making, including electoral lists and top EU positions, binding measures and sanctions are needed at national and EU level, says a second resolution, drafted by Finnish centre-right MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen.

While 35% of MEPs are now women, average female representation across the EU's national parliaments remains unchanged at 24%. Just 23% of ministers are women.

To improve the gender balance within the EU institutions, MEPs urge national also governments to propose, after the 2014 European elections, a woman and a man as their candidates for European Commissioner.

"Almost a century after the first International Women's Day, effective gender equality remains a mirage for most women on this planet. We as female parliamentarians have an obligation to contribute to this valuable work to transform voluntary measures into mandatory ones,” said Galician MEP Anna Miranda, from the European Free Alliance Group.


"Women should have the same position, rights and opportunities in today society as men. It is a long process but we can help it together by supporting women to get involved in fields where they are a minority e.g. in green economy, research and science, IT technologies", said MEP KatarinaNeve'alova, from the Socialists & Democrats group (S&D).

"I do not accept the argument that quotas lead to "token women". Sure, there are incompetent women, but if I look at the current state of our economy, you cannot possibly claim that the 97% of male business leaders have been selected purely on the basis of merit," said EP rapporteur Sophia in't Veld (ALDE). 

"We need an instrument to break the glass ceiling. The glass ceiling is not a visible brick wall, but it consists of very subtle, invisible, often not even conscious mechanisms that constitute an obstacle to equal representation of women. And I would like to quote Maureen Reagan who already decades ago said: "I will feel equality has arrived when we can elect to office women who are as incompetent as some of the men who are already there," the liberal Dutch MEP added.

"The equal representation of women and men is not only a question of equality, but also a question of quality. The larger the group of elected decision-makers, the more diverse the group is and therefore is more likely to have more broad and balanced outcomes," argued MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen, from the European People's Party ?group, rapporteur of the Report Women in Political Decision-Making for the Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee.

On average 12% of board members of the largest publicly listed companies in Europe are women, and just 3% are leaders of corporate boards.

In 2011, the EU commissioner for Justice and Fundamental Rights, Viviane Reding, launched a Women on the Board Pledge for Europe, calling on large companies to increase the women present at the board level to 30% by 2015 and to 40% by 2020. Reding promised to consider legislative action if the self-regulatory initiative did not yield results by March 2012.

There is both an economic and a business case for better gender balance in company boardrooms and management. More women now graduate than men in Europe (59% vs. 41%), yet their professional careers lag behind men's. This underused pool of qualified workers represents an untapped potential for the economy. Studies also show a number of strong links between gender balance and performance in creativity, innovation, financial reporting, auditing and internal controls. 

Promoting more equality in decision-making is one of the goals in the Women's Charter launched by the Commission in March 2010. The Commission then followed these commitments by adopting a Gender Equality Strategy in September 2010 for the next five years, which includes exploring targeted initiatives to get more women into top jobs in economic decision-making.

  • June 2012: ?EU Commission to assess results of the consultation and come up with appropriate measures

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