European Gender Quotas Will Bring More Women Into the Boardroom
4:49 pm, July 16th | by Grace Rasmus
On Monday, the Christian Science Monitor reported on the increasing pressure on European leadership for gender quotas on corporate boards. The controversy began last year, when European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding tried to pass an initiative that would’ve placed ender quotas on the boards of European corporations. It was vetoed but a few months later former French finance minister Christine Lagarde voiced her support for the initiative. Lithuania has since promised to put quotas at the top of the agenda when they preside over the E.U. this month.
“At the end of the day, people will have to be convinced that [women] bring something to the table,” Lagarde told the Dublin-based Irish European Movement, an independent, not-for-profit group aimed at enhancing the connection between Ireland and Europe, in March. Largarde initially stated she was “offended” by the phrase “gender quota,” but has since realized that quotas are a necessary (albiet temporary) tool to get women into top positions.
Commissioner Reding’s policy calls for publicly-traded companies in the E.U. with over 250 employees to have women make up 40 percent of board members by 2020. This is projected to impact a total of 5,000 companies across the continent.
In the U.K., the British government has also threatened to introduce quotas if companies failed to appoint more women on their boards. “Companies should be under no illusion that [the U.K.] government will adopt tougher measures if necessary,” U.K. Business Secretary Vince Cable told the press in April. “Quotas are still a real possibility if we do not meet the 25 percent target.”
The idea of gender quotas is somewhat controversial and, as ThinkProgress pointed out, is often dismissed for the same reasons used to argue against affirmative action. “Women will be suspected as ‘quota’ candidates instead of qualified participants, and their involvement will be trivialized instead of lauded,” Annie-Rose Strasser wrote. However, she pointed out that the criticism often ignores the reasons we need these quotas in the first place, such as the fact that women face extreme gender biases in the workforce and that said biases act as barriers to their success.
These gender quota initiatives are also highly effective and seemingly the only way to reach a balance. In 2012, the Inter-Parliamentary Union studied the effect of quotas in elected offices and found that “nine out of the top 10 countries which witnessed the highest growth in the number of women [members of parliament] in their lower house of parliament had used quotas. Conversely, seven out of the nine lower houses of parliament that witnessed an actual decrease in women MPs had not used any quotas:”
All in all, electoral quotas were used in 22 of the 48 countries holding elections last year. Where quotas had been legislated, women took 24 per cent of parliamentary seats; with voluntary quotas, they gained 22 per cent. Where no quotas were used, women took just 12 per cent of seats, well below the global average.
And these quotas are not important simply for the sake of advancing women to the positions they deserve, but rather benefit the companies as a whole. A recent study by Reuters found corporations with more gender-diverse boards actually outperform their heavily-male peer companies.