An opinion adopted by the European Economic and Social Committee at its plenary session of 13 February 2013 supports the European Commission proposal establishing a temporary quota system for women on the boards of publicly-listed companies. Such a measure is deemed necessary to bridge the gender gap at top management level and ensure equal opportunities in the access to company boards.
According to the Commission document, 85% of non-executive board members and 91% of executive board members of European companies are men. The draft directive proposed by the Commission aims to have at least 40% women non-executive directors on the boards of listed companies with 250+ employees by 2020.
In the opinion drafted by Madi Sharma (Employers' Group, UK), the Committee stresses its support for this initiative, putting forward a number of proposals that would help to reach the target set by the Commission. The EESC recognises that quotas are not the ideal method to achieve real gender equality; however, in the current context, they are the most effective instrument to balance the existing disparities and restore the dignity of women.
Ms Sharma said that she welcomed the compromise reached on her opinion, emphasising the "importance of social partners and civil society's support for the Commission in its efforts to promote equality, diversity and transparency in the system of appointment of company board members", which tends to be opaque.
EESC and gender equality
Ms Sharma's opinion is just the latest of many actions devoted to gender balance. The EESC has always paid a great deal of attention to gender equality. Just last month, it addressed the issue of gender dimension in the Europe 2020 strategy with an opinion presented by Joana Agudo i Bataller (Workers Group', Spain), in which it underlined the detrimental effect of gender inequality on the European economy.
The opinion suggested a number of measures to mitigate gender inequalities that should be taken into account while implementing the various strands of the Europe 2020 strategy. An open conference will take place at the EESC on 22 March 2013 to discuss how the Europe 2020 strategy can be linked more closely to the Commission's Strategy for Equality between men and women. It will look at what specific adjustments should be made to ensure that the EU fully mainstreams gender equality in education, training, employment, careers, pay, work-life balance and decision-making.