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28th May 2022

Boardroom equality rules advance, despite opposition

  • Only 30.6 percent of board members and just 8.5 percent of board chairs in the EU were women in October 2021 (Photo: ShellVacationsHospitality)
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A 10-year deadlock on rules promoting equality in the boardroom for women was broken Monday (14 March) — with EU ministers finally agreeing a common position on a proposal to set minimum quota targets for female company directors.

The ministers set a minimum goal for at least 40 percent of non-executive company board members, or, alternatively, at least 33 percent for all board members, to be women by 2027.

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The move paves the way for negotiations between the European Parliament and EU member states on the issue.

But the decision was by majority, with some member states still reluctant, as they regard the rules as infringing on their domestic competencies.

Estonia, Slovakia and Hungary abstained from supporting the proposal, while Sweden and Poland were vocal in rejecting it during Monday's debate.

Sweden, regarded as one of the most progressive member states on equality issues, opposed the move because Stockholm believes that measures on how to promote gender equality belong to national authorities.

Sweden's opposition reflected the position of the country's parliamentary committee on EU affairs but not that of the government in Stockholm, an EU diplomat said.

For her part, Polish labour minister Marlena Maląg said member states face different situations in terms of the ratio of women on company boards.

"This imposes much more serious obligations on Poland in comparison to other member states where the representation of women is higher," she said during discussions on the proposal on Monday. She said companies could suffer reduced competitiveness due to an increase in reporting and administrative obligations.

EU member states can choose between the two proposed targets, but once the law is passed, they would be obliged by the EU to ensure companies do their best to achieve such standards.

The final adoption of the text will help address "the glass ceiling with which women are still too often faced in the world of work," said French labour minister Élisabeth Borne, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

Only 30.6 percent of board members and just 8.5 percent of board chairs in the EU were women in October 2021, according to figures from the EU council.

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