Gender equality on boards: support for quotas still debatable

An EU bid to have quotas for equal representation of women and men on listed company boards still lacks support from member states

MEPs and European experts yesterday exchanged views on the prospects of gender equality measures aimed at getting more women into non-executive directorship positions.

In a generally homogenous conversation where the majority of speakers held similar stances, the consensus was that the road to more female representation in positions of power was taking too long.

“This is not a new debate in the parliament… we cannot wait 100 more years for equal opportunities for all,” said Renew MEP Karen Melchior.

The general mood was that not enough was being done at EU level. Proposals for a quota system for female board directors for listed companies advanced back in 2014 by European Commissioner Viviane Reding had never received the backing of member states.

“We would like to see the deadlock at the EU level resolved… we must be clear about what we intend to pursue in the coming decade,” said Monika Shulz-Strelow, president of FiDar, a German advocacy group promoting the need for more women on supervisory boards.

Dutch lawyer Jacqueline Prince spoke of legislation being enacted at local level in the Netherlands to get more women into decision-making executive and non-executive roles. “I hope that in 10 years’ time it will no longer be relevant what your background – gender, disability, race – is.”

And while socialist MEP Heléne Fritzon said the presence of women on the boards of the largest companies had improved, “we are not there yet in terms of representation of women in positions of power and decision-making roles … Everyone benefits from gender equality, let's stop wasting women’s time and skills.”

Difficulties were identified by the debate’s speakers, who cited both a lack of support for quotas amongst youths, but also the inability to make a decisive impact without such legally-binding measures. “In my party we had a quota and young women were against this, we need to figure out how to convince them to support quotas,” said Angelika Niebler (EPP). Karen Melchior (Renew) explained how progress in this regard has been different across the EU and “highly divergent” – she elaborated on her position that there was a demonstrable need for legally binding gender parity policies because without them not enough progress is made.

Somewhat in opposition to the mainstream narrative of the debate was MEP Pernille Weiss (EPP) who pointed out the pitfall of these kinds of debates which is that they focus too intently on the negative without pointing out the positive. “I don’t like that we are reiterating this negative narrative about our own society, that it’s too paternalistic… it would be better to talk about what we stand to gain from more diversity such as economic benefits like increased competitiveness and higher profits.”

Toward the end of the exchange MEP J. Buxade Villalba (ECR) voiced his thoughts on what had been discussed, going very much against the grain.

“Young people, young women don't agree with quotas. There are 25 women here and 14 men and I have no doubt that all the women that are present deserve to be here, however if we implement quotas we won’t know if you really deserve to be here or if you’re just here because of the quota…

“The only concrete thing you have said today is that you want to change the culture of business in the EU without installing a totalitarian regime or doctrine.”

Ewropej Funded by the European Union

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

More in Ewropej