Social & Politics

Pulling the Quota

Pulling the quota feature

As companies fail to address gender imbalance, Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and EU Justice Commissioner, weighs possible mandatory quotas to promote more women on boards.

It is not so long ago that Ursula von der Leyen announced at the last DLDwomen that “voluntary agreements are not enough.” The German Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs passionately argued in favor of a legal female quota in Germany, so far without such consequences.

Now, one of the European Commission’s leading ladies seems to be tired of waiting for the companies to come around, too. “One year ago, I asked companies to voluntarily increase women's presence on corporate boards,” Reding said in a statement. “However, I regret to see that despite our calls, self-regulation so far has not brought about satisfactory results.”

In a report, she gives disappointing numbers. Over the past 12 months, only 24 companies (none of them German) had signed a pledge to ensure that 30% of their board positions are held by women by 2015, and 40% by 2020. Right now, less than 14% of board members at Europe's biggest companies are women, the Justice Commissioner criticized. At this rate, Reding said, it would take another 40 years for women to get equal.

Breaking the Glass

Breaking the Glass

In other words, women are painfully underrepresented in leading positions. How can this be despite the fact that 60% of University graduates are now women?

One of the EU’s most powerful executive arms knows how to address sensitive issues. At the DLD conference in January she announced that the Internet shall learn how to forget, namely with a new Data Protection Reform to make Europe the standard setter for modern data protection rules in the digital age. Female talent in business, however, stays one of her political key issues.

“The lack of women in top jobs in the business world harms Europe's competitiveness and hampers economic growth,” Reding added, citing studies that firms with equal representation of women on their boards had a 56% higher operating profit compared with companies with all-male boards.

“I believe it is high time that Europe breaks the glass ceiling that continues to bar female talent from getting to the top in Europe's listed companies.” – Viviane Reding

Public Consultation

The solution to this gender inequality and harmful business structures could be mandatory quotas for the number of women on the boards of publicly traded companies. Thus, Reding launched a public consultation on how best to achieve gender equality on company boards, with the aim of introducing legislation later this year.

Just a few days before her announcement hundreds of female journalists in Germany called for a 30% quota in the editorial boards. This underlines the necessity for changing an antiquated status quo within one of Europe’s biggest economic powers.

“It’s no secret that in countries where there are legal quotas [for representation on boards], the figures have grown substantially,” she said. France for instance passed such a law last year, with an impressive jump from 12 to 22% of females in top positions. “Personally, I am not a great fan of quotas,” Reding said. “However, I like the results they bring.”

Source: AP, Spiegel Online, Welt

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Ursula von der Leyen
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