EC defers debate on quotas for women on boards

A debate on EU proposals for introducing a 40% quote for women on boards have been deferred for a month.

The debate did not go ahead after lawyers suggested the move could be illegal. EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding says she has not been forced to scrap controversial proposals to introduce a 40% quota for women on boards across Europe and hopes that they will be debated before the end of November.

Britain was among several countries which had objected to quotas. The proposal was said to be supported by Reding due to the low number of women in board positions in EU countries.

The EC says less than 15% of board positions in EU countries are taken by women. France, Spain, Italy, Iceland and Belgium have all recently introduced quotas.

Figures to be released this week from Boardwatch shows that in the UK the number of women on the boards of top FTSE 100 companies has increased from 12.5% in 2010 to 17.3% after Lord Davies set a target of 25% for 2015. The figures will also show that the number of all male boards in top UK companies has fallen to seven and that 55 per cent of non-executive directors joining FTSE 100 boards since 1 March 2012 have been women. However, there have been no new female executive directors appointed since March.

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After earlier reports that the quota proposal had been scrapped, which Reding denies, Tom Hadley, Director of Policy of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said: “This is good news – especially as there are signs that the voluntary approach is starting to work with a record 16% of women now on the boards of FTSE 100 companies.

“Although we are not in favour of a quota system we recognise the need to accelerate progress and will continue to actively promote the role that executive recruiters can play in sourcing more female candidates for senior roles. The other priority is to continue addressing residual barriers – for example, by embedding effective mentoring and flexible working patterns in UK workplaces. The UK recruitment industry is committed to helping make a real difference in this crucial area.”

David Winterburn, Acting Chair of the Association for Executive Recruitment (AER), said: “Executive recruiters are helping to drive the debate about how we can turn good intentions into real change. Despite today’s outcome in Brussels there is a real need to continue being proactive in sourcing a more diverse pool of candidates and challenging any latent pre-conceptions. This is a further opportunity for Executive Search providers to demonstrate their expertise and to work with clients to increase gender diversity in senior positions”.

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