Women on top: Will regulation help smash the glass ceiling?

Strategic Communications

November 22, 2013

Viviane Reding, Vice-President and Commissioner for Justice, as part of her campaign to have women more represented on boards of companies, introduced legislation to the European Parliament in November last year. This took the form of a proposed Directive setting a minimum objective of 40% of the under-represented sex in non-executive board-member positions in listed companies in Europe by 2020 (2018 for public undertakings). On 20 November 2013 after a plenary debate, the proposal was overwhelmingly adopted by the European Parliament (459 for, 148 against and 81 abstentions). The Council of Ministers which has joint responsibility for the proposal is expected to next discuss it on 9-10 December 2013.

Why gender equality matters

Women are barely visible among top business leaders, and account for a very low percentage of board and nonexecutive board members. Although there has been some progress since 2010, it has been slow. It received a boost in the form of the Commission’s proposal to introduce a 40% objective for women on boards, based on merit. A report looked at women and men in leadership positions between October 2012 and April 2013 and noted an increase in the number of women on company boards in 20 Member States.

Even so, last year 5 out of every 6 board members were men. However, Vice President Reding commented: “Regulatory pressure works. The cracks are starting to show on the glass ceiling. More and more companies are competing to attract the best female talent. They know that if they want to remain competitive in a globalised economy they cannot afford to ignore the skills and talent of women.”

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