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Viviane Reding

Vice-President of the European Commission,

EU Justice Commissioner

Increasing gender balance on company boards: Good for businesses and the economy

Press conference after the EPSCO Council

Brussels, 17 February 2012

Today was the first time that ministers debated at EU level how to improve the participation of women on company boards.

Everyone agreed that there is a problem with women’s participation at the top level of companies. There was unanimity that we need to do something.

I told the ministers that gender quality makes good sense for two reasons: our economies and our businesses. Women are an economic benefit to companies and studies have shown that women mean businesses.

First, the economy: women account for 60% of university graduates. Getting more women into the labour market can be one of the ways to improve Europe's competitiveness.

It’s very good that the employment and social affairs ministers are discussing this issue. Getting more women in the workforce will also help achieve the Europe 2020 goal of raising the employment rate for adults to 75%.

You have to build up the pyramid. This is a responsibility of governments to help improve the equilibrium between family and working lives.

Second, there is a clear business case for more women on boards.

I described a number of studies that show the link between a higher number of women in senior positions and companies’ financial performance.

For example, a McKinsey study found that gender-balanced companies have a 56% higher operating profit compared to male-only companies.

Ernst and Young looked at the 290 largest publicly listed companies. They found that the earnings at companies with at least one woman on the board were significantly higher than in those that had no female board member.

Women in top management really mean business. There is no longer anyone challenging these facts. I have seen an evolution of the public debate. One year ago, many companies were still saying that you can’t find women for top jobs and that increasing women’s participation is not an issue. Now no one says this. There is an awareness that women mean business and this is big progress.

What is the next step? Almost a year ago, I challenged publicly listed companies in the European Union to voluntarily increase the number of women on their boards.

I asked CEOs to sign the "Women on the Board Pledge for Europe".

Under the pledge, women's presence on corporate boards would rise to 30% in 2015 and 40% in 2020.

In the next few weeks, I will present new figures for the EU revealing what progress – or lack of progress – has been made. I will decide if further action at EU level is needed to get more women on Europe's boards.

I will not pre-empt the results today. So, today begins the final countdown to the Commission’s report. February still has 12 more days.

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