On the 101st anniversary of International Women’s Day, the EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding hesitantly stated that EU wide legislation could soon come into play to force companies and boards to take on more women in board and other key roles. The current state of play is that across the EU, omen make up only 13.7% of top company roles, which is a net 1.9% increase since 2010. Whilst at the top, women earn less than men doing similar roles, in the UK 9% less. If things continue at the present rate it would take more than 40 years for women to reach 40% of the top roles. Further to this there is a 22% EU wide gender pay gap between men and women’s earnings. This with women making up 60% of all graduates across the EU, qualified but not rising to the top.
Are quotas the right way to address this issue? Mary Honeyball MEP stated on the BBC Programme ‘The record Europe’ that “quotas are the only way” forward. I tend to agree. Voluntary measures have been talked about for the past 20 years with no sustainable results and only 24 companies across the EU have currently signed up to the ‘women on the board pledge for Europe’ to increase women in the boardroom. This pledge makes a public commitment by companies to increase female representation on their boards to 30% by 2015 and 40% by 2020. Self regulation does not seem to be working fast enough. Many EU counties such as France, Belgium and Spain and non-EU counties such as Norway have introduced quotas which have seen the number of women on boards increase. Recent polls commissioned by Reding found that ¾ of respondents were in favour of quotas. My experience as an equality and diversity manager in the NHS has shown me that instituting quotas does not mean that companies will not get the best person for the job. Rather it will result in more talented and qualified women putting themselves forward for the top roles and companies benefitting from greater diversity of ideas, innovation and skills.
At the moment the European Commission is holding a public consultation into the matter which ends on the 28th May 2012. As many individuals and companies should contribute as possible, so that any legislation that does occur following this, is representative of w wide range of views.