Europe's Policy on Gender Balance in Decision-Making

The European Commission publishes a new gender equality policy every five years following an extensive consultation process with Member States. The Strategy for Equality between Women and Men represents the European Commission's work programme on gender equality for the period 2010-2015. It is a comprehensive framework committing the Commission to promote gender equality into all its policies including under the thematic priority of equality in decision-making.

The European Pact for Gender Equality for the period 2011 – 2020 adopted by the Council of the European Union in March 2011 urged action at Member State level and, as appropriate, at Union level to promote the equal participation of women and men in decision-making at all levels and in all fields, in order to make full use of all talents.

The Women’s Charter adopted in March 2010 reaffirmed the Commission’s commitment to working to increase the percentage of women in positions of responsibility.

The EU Commission also manages a database on women and men in decision-making which monitors the progress achieved across EU Member States by collecting and disseminating comparable data at EU level and through regular reporting. It also supports a network to promote women in decision making in politics and in the economy.

In March 2011, Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding encouraged publicly listed companies to sign the “Women on the Board Pledge for Europe" and to develop self-regulatory initiatives to get more women into top jobs, with a view to reaching 30 per cent of women on the boards of publicly listed companies by 2015 and 40 per cent by 2020.

However, due to the slow and limited progress achieved under this voluntary call for action, in November 2012, the European Commission proposed a Directive with a view to obtaining a 40 per cent representation of the under-represented sex in non-executive board positions in publicly listed companies by 2020, and by 2018 for listed public undertakings. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) would not come under the scope of the proposed Directive.

The draft Directive proposes that each company would make appointments to vacant positions on the basis of pre-established, clear neutrally formulated and unambiguous criteria.  It also proposes that priority be given to a member of the under-represented sex if candidates are equally qualified in accordance with the selection criteria.  It will be a matter for Member States to draw up rules on sanctions that are “dissuasive, effective and proportionate” and to ensure that the requirements of the Directive are respected.  The proposed Directive is conceived as a temporary measure set to expire in 2028.

Following strong endorsement by the European Parliament in November 2013, the Commission's proposal is currently being discussed by the Council of the European Union at Working Party level.