European Commission debates proposals for board quotas for women

Board room

The European Commission will today debate proposals for quotas to increase the number of women on corporate boards.

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding supports a proposal that would require companies in the 27 countries of the European Union to reserve 40% of board seats for women, with sanctions against companies that fail to comply. Reports say that the EU’s executive body is divided on the issue, with many commissioners preferring self-regulation.

In fact, those who support it are mainly male commissioners, while leading female commissioners oppose the proposal.

The UK’s Business Secretary Vince Cable has spoken out against the idea of quotas, pointing out that progress has been made since the adoption of a voluntary code of conduct for executive search firms in the UK. According to figures from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, women now make up 16.7% of FTSE 100 and 10.9% of FTSE 250 boards, an increase from 12.5% and 7.8% respectively in 2010.

The UK has a target for women to hold 25% of board seats by 2015 but Cable says that he supports a business-led approach to achieving boardroom diversity, rather than quotas.

Some European countries already have quota laws to ensure better representation of women in the boardroom. They include EU members France, Spain, Italy and Belgium, as well as Iceland and Norway, which are not part of the EU.

The quota proposals will be put to the European Parliament for a vote on possible implementation across the whole of the EU only if there is enough agreement in the European Commission.

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