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27/05/2011 Equality between the sexes: Is a quota system next for large companies?

60% of graduates in Europe are women and yet 90% of board members for companies quoted on the stock exchange are men. Go figure! The report voted on Wednesday May 25th by the FEMM committee (Women’s rights and gender equality) asks the EU to reverse the trend by ensuring that women are better represented in the management positions of large European companies.

Are quotas the answer?

The tool favoured by the report is creating quotas. It has been tried and tested before with excellent results, most notably in Norway which seems to be at the cutting edge in Europe with regard to equality. Since 2003, a minimum of 40% of board members must be women in publicly quoted companies in Norway. Failure to comply may lead to penalties or result in the company being wound up. Furthermore, the report stresses the persuasive effects of possible adoption of legislation on quotas. For example, France increased the number of women in management positions from 7.6% in 2008 to 11.9% in 2010 even though the legislation was only in its preparatory stages during this period.

Nonetheless, rapporteur Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou (EPP) stressed that there is not any single, universal solution to the problem of sexism in companies. In an interview at the European Parliament, she emphasised the wide range of situations that have to be considered in order to have any hope of reaching the 40% threshold by 2015. The problem is that different countries are advancing at different rates so some are far from the threshold while others have almost reached it due to proactive measures taken by companies themselves or Member States.

The hesitant position of the European Commission

The Commission, a key actor in the creation of binding policies, is called on in the report to move towards promoting real equality. These proposals are still very measured as it is only when a complete study of how women are represented with EU companies and in the event of insufficient measures being taken by companies and Member States, that the Commission is invited to come up with “concrete measures”. On the issue of quotas, the Commission takes a more hesitant position than that posited in the report by Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou: 30% of board members to be women by 2015 and 40% by 2020.

The report is expected to be presented at plenary in July. The Parliament will then pass it over to the European Commission which will be responsible for deciding on a timeline and making concrete proposals to Member States.  

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