EU wants direct action to get women into boardrooms

Tue Nov 13, 2012 2:26pm EST
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By Claire Davenport

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission wants to make companies favor female non-executive board candidates where they are equally qualified so as to raise the proportion of women in boardrooms to 40 percent, EU sources said on Tuesday.

One source, who declined to be named, said the commission plan did not set a binding EU quota for all member states but rather set an "objective" of having 40 percent women by 2020 - suggesting that an earlier plan for a strict 2020 deadline had been dropped.

But another EU source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the preference rule was "tied to the legally binding objective of 40 percent by 2020, which means that if by 2020 companies have not reached 40 percent and have not been appointing women instead of men, then they will also face sanctions".

The European commissioners are scheduled to vote on the proposal on Wednesday. Britain, which had led opposition to a mandatory quota, believed its view had won out.

"The UK welcomes the Commission's decision not to impose mandatory quotas for women on boards," a government spokeswoman said. "We have consistently argued that measures are best considered at national level."

The Commission estimates that women currently account for fewer than 15 percent of non-executive board positions in companies with more than 250 staff.

The new proposal would now oblige these companies to favor "the underrepresented sex" from 2016 onward until a share of 40 percent is reached, the second source said.

Member countries would have the power to determine and impose sanctions on firms that did not obey the rule.   Continued...