It’s a topic that divides opinion straight down the line, but now it seems the EU Commission is set to bring in legislation that would require employers to focus on equality and diversity in the workplace by implementing a quota of female board members.
Viviane Reding, the EU commissioner for justice, citizenship and fundamental rights, is proposing to introduce the legislation by majority vote in October, which – if passed – means the UK would have no legal recourse to veto it.
She wants state-owned companies to be fined or otherwise sanctioned if their supervisory boards comprise less than 40 per cent women by 2020 – a suggestion that has been met, predictably, by strong opinions on both sides.
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills commented: “Places such as Norway have these quotas and they’ve seen a massive rise in women being appointed in non-executive roles, which we feel is worse as they end up being treated like tokens.”
The representative pointed out that there may be non-discriminatory reasons why females are less likely to reach the top jobs, adding: “Evidence suggests women often have a lack of confidence or a lower perception of their own skills and they sometimes find it difficult to gain the necessary skills and experience to operate at board level.”
However, Viviane Reding has stated in the past that the economic case for getting more women into the workforce and appointing more female board members is “overwhelming”, and independent research seems to back it up.
A report from the Cranfield School of Management (CMS) calculated that businesses with more gender equality in the workplace – specifically, more women in boardroom positions – do better than their competitors, generating a 66 per cent higher return on capital and a 42 per cent higher return in sales.
More recently, CMS research found that prospects have improved for career-minded women since the publication of Lord Davies’ findings on gender equality at work, with the proportion of females sitting in boardroom seats increasing to a record 15 per cent – but this still falls short of the 25 per cent target set by the former Labour minister for 2015.