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European Union (EU) Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has announced the first two companies which have signed up to the 'Women on the Board Pledge for Europe', committing to improve the gender balance in boardrooms. Guerlain, the perfumes and cosmetics firm, and FES Consulting Empresarial, the Spanish business consultancy, have made a voluntary commitment to increase women's presence on their corporate boards to 30% by 2015 and to 40% by 2020.
Commissioner Reding has challenged publicly-listed companies in Europe in March to sign the Pledge following a meeting with chief executives of major European publicly-listed companies (MEMO/11/124).
Reding said "I very much welcome the fact that two more European firms have signed up to our targets for better gender balance on boards. Having more women on the board is good for business and good for the economy, and this shows that more and more companies are aware and prepared to take action. I hope that others will now follow their lead and sign up to the 'Women on the Board Pledge for Europe'. In March 2012 I will assess the situation and see whether there is significant progress in enhancing women's participation in decision-making. If this has not happened, I will be ready to present measures at EU level."
The announcement on the two first companies signing the "Women on the Board Pledge for Europe" comes as Commissioner Reding met with Ursula von der Leyen, German Minister for Labour and Social Affairs, to discuss how to best get more women into leading positions.
Commissioner Reding welcomed the support from Germany's labour minister. As Europe's population is ageing, women are crucial to meeting the Europe 2020 employment target of 75%. Joint efforts by political parties, governments and businesses are needed to improve the status quo.
Only 12% of board members at Europe's largest companies are women and in 97% of cases the board is chaired by a man. Progress over the past years has been very slow: the share of female board members in the EU has increased by just over half a percentage point per year over the last seven years. At this rate, unless action is taken, it will take another 50 years before there is a reasonable balance (at least 40% of each sex) on company boards. In the meantime, publicly-listed firms in the EU keep losing out on female talent.
On 1 March 2011, Vice-President Reding met with business leaders, chief executives and chairs of boards, and organised a "mini hearing" with social partners to push for more women in boardrooms and senior management at Europe's biggest companies (IP/11/242). Following the meetings, Commissioner Reding publicly challenged business leaders to increase women's presence on corporate boards by signing up to the 'Women on the Board Pledge for Europe'.
Member states and companies have taken various measures to address the situation, ranging from 'soft measures' such as corporate governance codes and charters to legislative measures, such as gender quotas (Norway, Iceland, Spain and France).