Gender Balance on Boards: High time for gender quality

The ‘Women on Boards’ Directive has been delayed long enough, argues Evelyn Regner.
Adobe stock

By Evelyn Regner

Evelyn Regner is Chair of Parliament's Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality

16 Jun 2021

For eight years, we have been waiting for the European Council to unblock the Proposal for a Directive on improving the gender balance among non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchanges and related measures. It is now high time that we move forward with this.

Numerous studies have shown that increasing gender diversity on company boards significantly improves their wellbeing and makes them much more profitable as well as sustainable. And, during the COVID crisis, we have seen many women prove how qualified they are as leaders.

“Numerous studies have shown that increasing gender diversity on company boards significantly improves their wellbeing and makes them much more profitable as well as sustainable”

Many Member States have already recognised this fact, among them are France and more recently, Germany, which has introduced landmark legislation. Both countries’ approaches should be considered as best practices in this field when it comes to national legislation.

They have introduced binding quotas not only for company boards but also for management roles within companies. This is an important step towards economic and professional equality between men and women.

Their high standards would be safeguarded by the proposal for a ‘Directive on improving the gender balance among non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchanges and related measures’.

This is because the European Parliament has proposed a guarantee for this and reiterated that this safeguard clause will not be questioned during trilateral negotiations.

Yet Germany and other best practice Member States, such as Denmark and Sweden, continue to oppose this legislation at European level and are consequently blocking progress on this matter in other Member States too. But this progress is urgently needed, the sooner the better.

A key element for achieving equality between men and women lies in having female leaders in all areas of society and empowering women to achieve their full potential. Binding quotas (particularly when paired with financial sanctions) have been shown to be the only effective measure for achieving this.

Therefore, today’s glass ceiling can only be shattered through binding quotas. At European level, the majority of political groups recognise this fact, as proven by their joint call on the Presidents of the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the European Council to support this Directive.

“By striving for equality in leadership roles we can help accelerate the process; this in itself is a key part of achieving gender equality and providing equal opportunities for all”

This call was eventually answered, following the initiatives of myself and my co-rapporteur Lara Wolters (NL, S&D). On 8 March, President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, made his commitment to increasing female leadership in European companies clear when he addressed the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council on International Women’s Day.

The first female President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, subsequently equally reiterated her support for the ‘Women on Boards’ Directive. Finally, on 23 April, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, expressed his commitment to the Directive and pointed out the urgency for action.

Together with many other members of the European Parliament, we are working continuously on raising awareness of this file with the additional support of the Presidencies of the European Council.

The Portuguese, German, and future Slovenian presidencies have together called for decisive progress in the negotiations on the proposal, while the European Economic and Social Committee has asked the Council to continue the discussion on the Women on Boards Directive.

Recently, the European Parliament’s resolution on the EU’s Gender Equality Strategy also called on the European Commission to continue working with EU Member States, as well as the current and incoming EU presidencies. This urged them to address and solve the deadlock in the European Council and thus ensure that the Directive is adopted.

If we do not act now, the UN Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality will not be met by 2030 - nor by 2050 - or later because our current measures simply are not sufficient. By striving for equality in leadership roles we can help accelerate the process; this in itself is a key part of achieving gender equality and providing equal opportunities for all.

It is high time to not only state our support but also to walk the talk so that we can finally move forward with this file. Let’s shatter the glass ceiling together. 

Read the most recent articles written by Evelyn Regner - IWD 2021: The weight of the world on women's shoulders

Share this page