EWL press coverage

Balancing act

pm april 2012

Binding legislation is the only way to increase
female representation on company boards,
argues Cécile Gréboval

Commission vice-president for justice Viviane
Reding’s announcement of possible EU action
to address the women’s underrepresentation on
company boards has created a lively debate about
the pros and cons of quotas. The evidence shows,
however, that there is only one way forward if the
European commission wants to women and men to be equally
represented on boards of European companies: binding legislation.

The findings of the European Women’s Lobby’s (EWL)
progress report on women on boards, published in February
2012, and the commission’s latest analysis reveal that most
progress over the past year towards parity was made in France,
where quota legislation accompanied by sanctions was introduced
in 2011. Radical change throughout Europe requires
decisive action also at EU level. The commission must seize
this unique opportunity to ensure modern, efficient and diverse
economic decision-making and propose an EU directive on
parity in boardrooms. This is a question of credibility in the
eyes not just of women, but of men: 75 per cent of Europeans
favour quotas, according to a recent Eurobarometer poll.

The EWL’s assessment of national level initiatives to open
boardroom doors for women teaches us important lessons on
how the possible EU-level legislation should be shaped. First,
targets must be ambitious, as women’s representation rarely
increases beyond the thresholds set. For the EWL, the just
outcome is an equal representation of women and men. At EU
level, the ultimate target should be set at 50 per cent representation
of each sex by 2020, with mid-term targets to ensure
that the final goal will be reached in due time.

Secondly, only quotas with effective sanctions deliver desired
results. In Spain, five years after the adoption of a non-binding
40 per cent target for female representation by 2015, women
account for only 11 per cent of board members, and the target
will not be met without additional measures. EU legislation
must impose strong sanctions, such as those in place in
Norway. Thirdly, the commission should propose additional
measures to increase the number of women CEOs. In Norway
the quota law of 2005 made boardrooms more gender-balanced,
but the number of female CEOs did not increase and is
still below EU average. Specific attention must also be paid to
women’s representation in executive boards – the real holders
of authority.

EU legislation on parity on boards should cover a large
number of companies. While large companies show modest
progress, women’s representation on the boards of smaller
companies is lagging behind. The EU quota should apply to
private companies with more than 50 employers and to all
public companies.

Introducing EU legislation for more equality at the highest
level of economic decision-making would have both a concrete
and symbolic impact. However, it is only one part of the
equality equation: a broad range of action is needed to achieve
equality between women and men and, as a consequence, a
striving European economy. Improving the situation of all
women, also those who are not (yet) in the position to sit on
boards, is all the more important during these times of uncertainty
and change.

Progress with the revision to the maternity leave directive
– with full pay guaranteed as the European parliament has
proposed – would fill the other part of the equation and have
an immediate impact on the daily lives of millions of women.
It would also ensure more equality and quality in employment
and tackle some of the root causes for women’s underrepresentation
higher on the ladder. Gender-balanced boards are
the top of a pyramid, whose basis still needs considerable

Read the whole article here.

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