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European Commission

Viviane Reding

Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Justice Commissioner-

History in the making: the push for gender balance on boards gathers momentum

European Parliament backs Women on Boards Proposal

Press Conference – European Parliament/Strasbourg

20 November 2013

I am pleased to be here today with Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou and Evelyn Regner – two strong women who are helping to advance gender equality in Europe.

Today’s European Parliament plenary vote is history in the making. With this vote to support the Commission’s women on boards proposal, Europe’s first Chamber is making sure that the European Union continues to be a pioneer for gender equality.

From equal pay and workplace rights to gender equality in boardrooms, together, for decades the European Commission and the European Parliament have been at the forefront of the drive towards greater gender equality.

In business, women have long faced a glass ceiling which hinders them from reaching top jobs. Even now, in 2013, we have incredibly talented women making invisible bike helmets but we still have company boards from the dark ages, dominated by one gender alone. 83.4% of board members and 97% of the boardroom chairs are men, while women only make up 16.6% and 3% respectively.

Today, the European Parliament has taken an important step forward by giving its firm backing to the Commission’s proposal for a new European 40%-rule.

Let me tell you briefly just what that proposal will mean:

The 40% rule will apply to non-executive director posts in Europe’s largest publicly listed companies, sending the right signal by targeting the highest of corporate levels. Both the Commission and the Parliament recognise the need to foster the best conditions for Europe’s small companies to grow big. So SMEs are and will remain excluded from the 40% rule.

We are not interested in tokenism. At the heart of our law lies a transparent selection process aiming to reach 40% the under-represented sex by 2020 based on clear criteria and a comparison of the candidates' skills and qualifications.

The reasoning is simple: no woman will get a job simply because she is a woman, but no woman will be denied a job simply because she is a woman.

This is a fair deal both for the business world and for women, who have the same right as men to pursue top careers.

It is thanks to the commitment of two institutions – the European Commission and the European Parliament¬ working hand in hand – that these new rules are now on the way. Europe’s directly elected Parliament has sent a strong signal for gender equality today.

National ministers will now need to match this ambition in the Council. It is time they showed their true colours: Will ministers support the position of the members of the European Parliament, directly elected by European citizens?

Or will they drag their feet under the false pretence that gender equality should be tackled at national level? Decision time is now.

The push for gender balance on boards is gaining steam in Europe. The glass ceiling is starting to crack. The increase in the share of women on boards in Europe over the past year has been the highest yet recorded – thanks to the push from the European Commission and the Parliament.

And with today’s vote, we are moving yet another step closer to guaranteeing equal opportunities in decision-making positions for women and men in the business world: it's a women's world too!

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