European & International News

Workshop on Gender balance in corporate boards and top-management

woman boardroom men working 600(Brussels, 22 March 2013) This week the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality committee of the European Parliament held a highly attended workshop to discuss the European Commission’s proposal for a directive aimed at improving gender balance on corporate boards.

Parliamentarians, academics and policy experts came together with arguments and recommendations for and against the proposed directive, which has attracted notable attention within European institutions and wider media.

Although a minority of European Member States have enacted legislation or voluntary frameworks over the past few years, the directive would aim to unify and formalise procedures to achieve 40% of the under-represented gender (overwhelmingly women), onto non-executive board members of publicly listed companies.

Amongst specific research and studies, a representative from MSC Headhunters based in the UK spoke of current hiring procedures for high level boards positions – and admitted that of those long listed for company boards, around 5% would be women selected from women already holding high-level positions and therefore not identifying emerging talent within the companies themselves.

A number of on-going barriers were identified, which the directive would aim to mitigate. Firstly, that negative stereotypes and perceptions of women’s abilities and characteristics continue to stop those in power hiring women to board positions. Secondly the recruitment process for boards continues to put too much weight on ‘fitting in’ to existing board culture and profile, as opposed to skills needed to achieve and accomplish the job. Thirdly, that too many organisations lack transparency in their hiring practices. Finally, that questions about work-life balance continue to leveled at women in a way they are not asked of men.

At present, more than 85% of corporate board seats are effectively reserved for men. Judging by the reactions to the announcement today of draft EU legislation to tackle this cosy state of affairs for the privileged few, ensuring women candidates with equal qualifications and experience are given a fair chance at landing such positions would undermine meritocracy we still have a long way to go. The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) begs to differ.

The EWL welcomes the first European legislative proposal to tackle discrimination and inequality at the highest levels of corporate decision-making. The draft Directive comes at a time of frustration with stagnating levels of female representation on corporate boards, patent failure of self-regulation initiatives and disillusionment with the economic benefits of “business as usual”.

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