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The EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding is keen to propose a gender quota for corporate boards next month, saying that large firms should be fined if 40% of non-executive seats are not reserved for women.
This is according to a draft proposal, following recent reports that the gender gap at board level in Europe’s top firms is still very high.
“Progress in the share of women on company boards is very slow, with an average annual increase of just 0.6 percentage points over the past years. The rate of improvement in individual member states has been unequal and has generated highly divergent results,” the draft reads.
While some EU countries have started to take action, there has also been fierce opposition, notably from the UK.
“We made clear in our response to the European Commission's consultation on addressing gender imbalance that we do not support proposals for mandatory quotas,” said a spokesman for the UK department for business, innovation and skills (BIS).
“The UK will definitely not be supporting anything that has come through from the European Commission. We know British businesses don't want it and the vast majority of the public don't want to see it.”
A letter drafted by the UK will be sent to the European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. It was seen by the Financial Times which quoted the letter as saying the country does “not support the adoption of legally binding provisions for women on company boards at the European level.”
Other EU states are likely to follow suit with Sweden and Germany considering backing the UK.