EU debates women on board quotas

Today, EU commissioners will debate new legislation demanding that companies reserve 40% of board seats for women.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
The proposal, championed by EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, will force companies across the European Union to find female candidates for 40% of board roles in an attempt to end the trend for male-only corporate boards. Less than 15% of board positions in EU member states are currently held by women, according to most recent data from the Commission.

The debate promises to be a lively one as the issue is highly contentious – several countries including the UK (led by Vince Cable) have already stated their opposition to the proposal. But if an agreement is reached, Reding will be able to take her proposal to the European Parliament, where it could then be ratified.

Reding took to her Twitter feed (@VivianeRedingEU) to state her case prior to today’s meeting. ‘Of course, there will be some opposition. But Europe has a lot to gain from more diverse corporate boards,’ she said. ‘The European Parliament has called for action to get more women into boardrooms. The time to act is now.’

Women on board quotas aren’t exactly new. Norway has had one for a decade. France, Spain, Italy, Iceland and Belgium have also recently introduced quota laws. The UK government isn’t opposed to the idea in theory: it is aiming to hit a minimum of 25% female directors by 2015. But it wants to achieve this through voluntary quotas and meritocracy rather than regulation. It argues that the UK has already made great strides in equality: women currently make up 17.3% of FTSE-100 boards, up from 12.5% only two years ago.

The 30% Club, an initiative that is aiming to see women take 30% of board positions, is also opposed to Reding’s proposal. It argues that this year 48% of FTSE-100 non executive director appointments have gone to women, which equates to 30 out of 62.  ‘If companies are going to go beyond box-ticking they must own the debate, and we continue to encourage a voluntary approach to sustained change in business culture in this country,’ says 30% Club founder Helena Morrissey.

Where do you stand? Vote in the poll on the right and join the debate.

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