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Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship

Breaking the 'glass ceiling' for women on company boards

Boardroom (c) Commons

One year after EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding called for credible self-regulatory measures, limited progress seems to have been achieved. A 1.9% increase from 2010 means that still only one in seven board members at Europe's top firms is a woman (13.7%). At this rate, it would take more than 40 years to reach a significant gender balance (at least 40% of both sexes).

In March 2011, Viviane Reding called upon European companies to voluntarily increase women's presence on corporate boards by signing the 'Women on the Board Pledge for Europe'. By signing this pledge, companies commit themselves to raise female representation on their boards to 30% by 2015 and 40% by 2020. However, during the past 12 months, only 24 companies across Europe have signed the pledge. "I regret to see that despite our calls, self-regulation so far has not brought about satisfactory results," she said today.

Today, the Commission is inviting the public – individual businesses, social partners, interested NGOs and citizens – to comment on what kind of measures the EU should take to tackle the lack of gender diversity in boardrooms. A public consultation will run until 28 May 2012. Following this input, the Commission will take a decision on further action later this year. Upon making the call in 2011, Vice-President Reding said that if "significant progress" had not happened by March 2012, "you can count on my regulatory creativity."

Reports on gender balance have shown that having women in top positions can significantly increase business performance, improve competitiveness and lead to economic gains. For example, Ernst & Young found that the earnings from the 290 largest publicly-listed companies where at least one woman on the board were significantly higher than in those that had no female board member.