The promotion of the equal representation of women and men in decision-making has been at the core of the European Women’s Lobby’s work since its creation in 1990. This work includes in particular the EWL 50/50 Campaign for Democracy launched in 2008 and focusing on the European elections of 2009 and subsequent allocation of EU ‘Top Jobs’. For the EWL, parity in decision-making is an issue of democratic representation and of social progress at EU and national levels, in line with the EU’s Treaty commitments to democracy and fundamental rights. The 50/50 Campaign demands binding measures for parity democracy at all levels of political, economic and social decision-making.
In 2010, women accounted for just 12% of board members and less than 3% of company chairs in Europe. Progress in this area has been extremely slow, despite national, European and international commitments to equality between women and men, including in decision-making. Numerous studies also point to the economic benefits of parity. The equal representation of women and men on boards is furthermore related to the broader question of equality in employment, an area where the European Union has a strong competence. The relegation of women to lower-level positions is a major cause of the persistent gender pay gap in Europe, which currently stands at 17.5% on average. Promoting women’s career development prospects and their equal access to management and decision-making posts at all levels is essential to achieving equality in the labour market to achieving the goals of the Europe 2020 Strategy for the EU to become a ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive economy’.
Some countries have taken action for more equal representation in boards of state-owned companies in the last ten years . More recently, a number of European countries have started to adopt binding measures/quotas (with a more or less binding system) for other types of companies, in order to ensure swift progress, notably in Norway, Iceland, Spain, France, Belgium, Austria, Italy and the Netherlands.
At European level, European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding announced in March 2011 her intention to take decisive action in order to achieve the equal representation of women and men on corporate boards, an announcement that the EWL strongly supports.
The EWL recommends that European companies sign the ‘Women on boards pledge for Europe’ initiated by Vice-President of the European Commission Reding in order ‘to develop their own credible way to get more women into top jobs.
The EWL recommends that the EU and Member States:
1. Adopt new legislation requiring European listed and non-listed public companies with more than 50 employees and all state-owned companies to have 40% of women on their boards of directors by 2015 and 50% by 2020, and that includes effective sanctions for non-compliance.
2. Introduce measures to increase the number of women holding the positions of company president or chair.
3. Limit the number of board positions that one person can hold.
4. Introduce accompanying measures to support enterprises in the implementation of such measures and empower women.
5. Use the on-going review of the EU public procurement regulation and the legislation on public procurement in Member States to make it possible to favour companies with a balanced representation of women and men in Boards and that implement other measures to actively promote equality between women and men.
6. Address the root causes of women’s under-representation in economic decision-making in corporations and in public institutions at national and EU level, including in relation to work/life balance.
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