EU Progress Report – Women in Economic Decision-Making in the EU

(Introduction) : Gender imbalance on corporate boards remains an important challenge for all EU Member States. It constitutes an untapped potential of skilled human resources, as evidenced by the discrepancy between the high number of female graduates and their underrepresentation in top-level positions. As women still face numerous barriers on the way to the top, this discrepancy can be seen as a waste of much highly-qualified and needed human resources.

The Europe 2020 Strategy – the EU’s growth strategy – leans on knowledge, competences and innovation. Human capital is key for addressing the demographic challenges of falling birth rates and an ageing society. One of the ways to improve Europe’s competitiveness can be a more balanced representation of women and men in economic decision-making positions, which can contribute to a more productive and innovative working environment and overall improved company performance. There is a growing body of research showing the benefits of gender diversity and the positive correlation between women in leadership and bus iness performance.

The matter of gender diversity in economic leadership positions was brought to the fore of the policy debate in September 2010 when the European Commission adopted its new Strategy for Equality between
Women and Men (2010-2015) and announced that it was considering using “targeted initiatives to get more women into top jobs in decision-making”. The first steps towards action were taken on 1 March 2011 when,
following dialogues with business leaders and representatives of the social partners, Viviane Reding, Vice- President of the European Commission and EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, launched the “Women on the Board Pledge for Europe”, a call on publicly listed companies in Europe to sign a voluntary commitment to increase
women’s presence on their corporate boards to 30 % by 2015 and 40 % by 2020 by means of actively recruiting qualified women to replace outgoing male members.

This call for action by the Commission’s Vice-President triggered a lively debate across EU Member States….

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