News

EU Mulls Gender Quotas to Crack Glass Ceiling

EU commissioner Viviane Reding addresses media on gender equality, Brussels, March 5, 2012.
EU commissioner Viviane Reding addresses media on gender equality, Brussels, March 5, 2012.
Rikard Jozwiak

Francoise Roels is the only woman among 12 board members at Cofinimmo. But that's about to change. The top brass of the leading listed real-estate investor in Belgium will soon have a completely different set-up.

Last year Belgium introduced gender quotas. All publicly listed companies have six years to ensure at least one-third of their board positions are held by women -- or face financial sanctions.

Roels was appointed before this came into effect -- picked for her qualifications and "not because of the fact that I wear or do not wear skirts," she says.

But she welcomes the prospect of having new female colleagues at the highest level. It will benefit everyone -- including men -- to shake up the way boards are selected, she says. "This professionalization of the process will also enable other types of men to come on the board."

According to Roels, in the past it was "often said that it was a kind of a practice that CEOs or board members asked fellow CEOs and fellow board members of their networks to join the boards, while if you will professionalize the way of collecting your board members you come up with different types of persons."

Growing Trend Across Europe

Proponents of quotas say they are needed to ensure greater gender equality. But they also argue that they make sense for companies, too, pointing to studies suggesting that companies with more women in top positions are more profitable.

But there's also strong opposition to mandatory quotas among most EU member states, which point out that unanimity is required to pass laws at EU-level in this policy field.

The trailblazer was non-EU member Norway, which in 2004 established quotas and sanctions such as the dissolution of a company if women held fewer than 40 percent of board positions.

France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain have also adopted similar gender quotas.

A recent poll by Eurobarometer suggests 75 percent favor legislation on gender balance in company boards. And in Germany, some 300 journalists recently called for media companies there to ensure women hold at least 30 percent of management positions.

Quotas From Brussels?

Now Brussels is contemplating EU-wide legislation. The EU commissioner for fundamental rights, Viviane Reding, wants women to hold 30 percent of board positions by 2015 -- rising to 40 percent by 2020. That's a tall order considering that currently only one in seven board members -- or 13.7 percent -- are women.

The slow pace has prompted Reding to canvass opinion among companies and citizens across the bloc, asking whether quotas are necessary and, if so, what sanctions firms should face.

Reding said this week that this consultation could result in legislation after the summer. "You know that for myself I made it always very clear," she says. "I am not fond of quotas but I very much like what quotas do, and maybe it is necessary to do what quotas do."

Critics note that both Sweden and Finland boast figures of over 25 percent female representation on company boards -- without the help of quotas.

...Or For Each Country to Decide?

Sweden's minister of equality, Nyamko Sabuni, wants more women on company boards but is a strong opponent of mandatory quotas. She says that this question must be solved in each member state, not through legislation from Brussels.

"I think that many of us think that this is a national issue. This was a thing that was brought up during the discussions. We have after all reached different levels in this area," Sabuni says.

"We must be allowed to find our own and different solutions. We can exchange experiences, we can learn from each other. But we cannot today start with common legislation when we are on such different levels."

Instead of quotas, Sabuni supports the idea of creating more time for women to make a career by promoting more affordable and accessible child care.

These thoughts are also echoed by Pedro Oliveira of BusinessEurope, which represents companies across the continent.

"It is true that the progress has not been so fast, so speedy," Oliveira says. "Nevertheless, we have to understand that this is not about filling up numbers. It is also about giving the possibility to women, though child-care policies etc., to create an environment where you gradually can allow women to be part of boards.

Find more coverage at RFE/RL
This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs