EU parliament adopts landmark quota for boards of large companies

MEPs approved a bill on Tuesday that will require all publicly listed companies in the EU to increase female representation in top roles by 2026. Belgium has had a law requiring boards of directors of listed companies to comprise at least one-third women since 2011, but the new EU directive now sets a higher minimum at 40 per cent.

The bill specifies that 40 per cent of non-executive director posts must go to the "under-represented sex" (usually women) for companies of at least 250 employees. The EU also aims for 33 per cent of senior roles to go to women, including non-executive directors and directors.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola hailed the bill as "a short piece of legislation but one that has been 10 years in the making." The European Commission first presented its proposal in 2012 but it was blocked in the European Council for almost a decade due to opposition from large member states Germany and the United Kingdom.

In 2021, only 30,6 per cent of board members in the EU were women, though this disguises huge disparities between Member States. France has introduced a quota of 40 per cent women on boards and 45,3 per cent of its boardroom seats were occupied by women, according to European Parliament data. At the other end of the scale is Cyprus with just 8,5 per cent of women on its boards.

"In those countries where binding quotas were introduced, considerably more women were appointed."

In the ten years the European Directive sat on the shelf, "boardrooms remained predominantly the realm of men," said Dutch MEP Lara Walter, one of the bill's lead negotiators, at a parliament press conference. "But in those countries where binding quotas were introduced, considerably more women were appointed."

In Belgium, the number of women on boards quadrupled from 8,3 per cent to 34,1 per cent between 2008 and 2020. A Belgian federal law on quota went into effect in mid-2011. The law requires boards of directors of listed companies and autonomous public enterprises to comprise at least one-third women.

National authorities will be responsible for implementing and enforcing the new European directive, with fines for those that fail to comply with the legally-binding target. Judicial bodies can even dissolve boardrooms if a company don't move towards gender equality.



European Parliament President Roberta Metsola © PHOTO FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP


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