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Quotas key to change on corporate boards, EWL President tells UK House of Lords

[London, 26 July 2012] Sonja Lokar, President of the EWL, was invited on 23 July to give evidence to the upper chamber of the British Parliament on the use of legislative measures to enhance equality on the boards of private companies. Ms. Lokar addressed the House of Lords’ EU Sub Committee, giving evidence of the benefits of gender balance on company boards and of experience of quotas in attaining this goal. Sonja Lokar stressed that the obstacles to gender balance on boards are both in the demand and also in the supply side, and explained the EWL position in favour of binding measures at the EU level as the only way to deliver sustainable change and accomplish the same objectives across companies and Member States.

The House of Lords’ EU Sub Committee, responsible for looking at EU employment issues, is currently carrying out an inquiry regarding EU action to improve gender diversity on boards. As a part of the inquiry project, the House of Lords invited Helena Morrissey, the founder of the 30% Club and CEO of Newton Investment Management and Sonja Lokar, President of the European Women’s Lobby, to give evidence on the lack of gender balance on company boards, its causes and the role of the EU has in this process; in particular, whether quotas at an EU level should be taken forward, and whether quotas in other EU Member States are causing talented women to be lost to companies overseas.

As Sonja Lokar highlighted, the issue of women’s under-representation on boards is complex due to its deep rooted causes in persistent gender stereotypes and unequal access to economic, social and cultural resources. Therefore, gender quota legislation should be part of a comprehensive response to this problem. While quotas might not bring about an immediate resolution to the issue, legally binding legislation enacted with strong sanctions is most effective tool to trigger the process of change [1] since it will oblige companies to work seriously in creating a ‘gender diversity’ ecosystem.

EU-level intervention is always a good stimulus to encourage gender equality across all Member States. Patterns of progress on the proportion of women on company boards show wide differences between EU Member States: while in some countries the percentage has been rising (France, Spain, UK) there is also confirmed evidence that in a number of EU countries (Estonia, Cyprus, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia) the trend in the share of women on boards is falling [2]. Therefore, EU intervention is necesary to set up a common objective (40% of women on boards) for all the companies in the different Member States.

A draft of Ms. Lokar’s speech, as prepared in advance for the intervention, can be found here.

A video of the EWL President’s intervention at the House of Lords can be found here (Minute: 01:01:00).

[2Progress on equality between women and men in 2011, EC, Justice

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