Women in the boardrooms: EU cracks the glass ceiling

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The European Parliament today voted with an overwhelming majority (459 for, 148 against and 81 abstentions) to back the European Commission’s proposed law to improve the gender balance in Europe’s company boardrooms. The strong endorsement by the Members of the European Parliament means the Commission’s proposal has now been approved by one of the European Union’s two co-legislators. Member States in the Council now need to reach agreement on the draft law, amongst themselves and with the European Parliament, in order for it to enter the EU statute book.

The plenary vote follows a clear endorsement for the Commission’s initiative from the Parliament’s two leading committees, the Legal Affairs (JURI) and Women’s Rights & Gender Equality (FEMM) committee on 14 October 2013. The most recent figures confirm that, following the Commission’s determined action in this area, the share of women on boards across the EU has been on the rise for the past three years and has now reached 16.6%, up from 15.8% in October 2012.

“Today’s European Parliament vote is a historic moment for gender equality in Europe,” said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. “The directly-elected European Parliament has made its voice heard loud and clear: Europe needs strong rules to tackle the gender imbalance in company boardrooms. The Parliament has made the first cracks in the glass ceiling that continues to bar female talent from the top jobs. The Council of Ministers should now rise to the challenge and make swift progress on this draft law, which places qualification and merit centre stage.”

Concretely, if a publicly listed company in Europe does not have 40% of women among its non-executive board members, the new law will require it to introduce a new selection procedure for board members which gives priority to qualified female candidates.

The measure will be discussed on 9 and 10 December in Brussels by European employment ministers from the twenty-eight countries. Not everyone is convinced. A minority, composed mainly of Eastern European countries and the United Kingdom, opposes the logic of quotas.

The new German coalition could tip the balance. Though the outgoing government (Conservative-Liberal) was rather reluctant, the new majority being formed by conservatives and socialists is about to reach an agreement on the subject.

Photo: Paul Morris