European & International News

Regulatory pressure gets the ball rolling: Share of women on company boards up to 15.8% in Europe

[Brussels, 25 January 2013] Today the Commission released mid-term figures on the share of women on boards in publicly listed companies. The new figures show an increase in the number of women on boards to 15.8%, up from 13.7% in January 2012. This breaks down into an average of 17% of non-executive board members (up from 15% in January 2012) and 10% of executive board members (up from 8.9%). An increase in the share of women on boards has been recorded in all but three EU countries (Bulgaria, Poland and Ireland).

The new figure represents a 2.2 percentage point increase as compared to October 2011 and is the highest year on year change yet recorded. This boost follows the women on boards proposal that the European Commission adopted on 14 November 2012 to introduce a 40% objective for women on boards based on merit. It also reflects the impact of high-level EU discussions about the need for legislation regulating the number of women on boards.

Vice-President Viviane Reding today presented the new figures at the World Economic Forum in Davos when speaking in a public session on Women in Economic Decision Making together with Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.

“The proof is in the pudding: regulatory pressure works. Companies are finally starting to understand that if they want to remain competitive in an ageing society they cannot afford to ignore female talent: 60% of university graduates are women,” said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. “The example set by countries such as Belgium, France and Italy, who have recently adopted legislation and are starting to show progress, clearly demonstrates that time-limited regulatory intervention can make all the difference. The Europe-wide law we have put on the table will make sure existing talent is used boosting gender balance evenly across all company boards throughout our internal market.”

Countries with quota legislation remain the motor of change. The largest percentage point increases were recorded in Italy (up by 4.9 percentage points to reach 11%), which recently adopted a quota law that requires listed and state-owned companies to appoint 1/3 women to their management and supervisory boards by 2015. France, which introduced a quota law in 2011, has become the first EU country to have more than one woman on the top-level board of all of its largest listed companies. Women now represent 25% of CAC 40 company boards in France – a 2.8 percentage point increase in the space of just 10 months (January – October 2012). France’s quota is 40% by 2017 applicable to executive and non-executive board members in listed and non-listed large companies (employing at least 500 workers and with revenues over 50 million EUR), with an intermediate target of 20% by 2014.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria is the only country where there was a notable decline (down by 4 percentage points), while Poland and Ireland have seen no change in the number of women on their boards, stagnating at 12% and 9% respectively.

Today’s figures are promising but there is still a long way to go. A quarter of the EU’s largest companies (25%) still have no women on their top-level board.

The European Commission published its last annual report on women in economic decision making in March 2012. The next full report will come out in April 2013. Today’s mid-term figures were collected in October 2012 and are being compared to the data set from January 2012. The full data are accessible online.


On 14 November 2012, the Commission adopted a law which sets a minimum objective of 40% of the under-represented sex in non-executive board-member positions in listed companies in Europe by 2020, or 2018 for listed public undertakings.

Main elements of the draft law:

  • If a publicly listed company in Europe does not have 40 per cent of women on its supervisory board, the new law will require them to introduce a new selection procedure for board members which gives priority to the qualified female candidates.
  • The law places the emphasis firmly on qualification. Nobody will get a job on the board just because they are a woman. But no woman will be denied a job because of their gender either.
  • The law only applies to the supervisory boards or non-executive directors of publicly listed companies, due to their economic importance and high visibility. Small and medium enterprises are excluded.
  • Individual EU Member States will have to lay down appropriate and dissuasive sanctions for companies in breach of the Directive.
  • The law is a temporary measure. It will automatically expire in 2028.
  • The law also includes, as a complementary measure, a "flexi quota": an obligation for companies listed on the stock exchange to set themselves individual, self-regulatory targets regarding the representation of both sexes among executive directors to be met by 2020 (or 2018 in case of public undertakings). Companies will have to report annually on the progress made.

Next steps:

In order to become law, the Commission’s proposal now needs to be adopted by the European Parliament and by the EU Member States in the Council. The European Parliament has appointed Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou (Committee on Women’s Rights) and MEP Evelyn Regner (Committee on Legal Affairs) as co-rapporteurs (draftspersons) for the proposal. The Council held a first discussion on the proposal in December and the Irish Presidency of the EU is expected to schedule another discussion at the meeting of Employment and Social Affairs ministers (EPSCO Council) on 20 June 2013. Meanwhile, on 15 January, the draft law successfully passed the Subsidiarity Check (with a 43:11 result) – where national parliaments (who each have two votes, making it 54 votes in total) give opinions about whether it is appropriate to tackle an issue at EU level or whether it is best left to the Member States.

See the full press release and further links here.

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