Businesses And govt Back Postponement of EU Gender Quotas

Gender QuotasThe decision to postpone the introduction of compulsory gender quotas in boardrooms across the EU has received the backing of many business figures.

EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding, who had previously lobbied for mandatory quotas to be introduced, announced on Twitter that the announcement had been postponed until November at the earliest.

If the legislation is implemented, every major company in the EU will be required to have at least 40 per cent of its boardroom seats occupied by women.

However, the announcement of the plans last month was met with opposition in many circles, with the main criticism levelled at the proposals being that they are likely to have a detrimental effect on gender balance, rather than a positive one.

Audrey Williams, a discrimination law expert at global law firm Eversheds, said it is “unsurprising” that the backlash against the proposals was so great.

She added that Ms Reding now has an opportunity to review the proposals and come back with something more “palatable” to satiate those who opposed the initial plan.

“To address concerns that the proposed directive could be unlawful, it could mean a significant watering down of the sanctions facing companies that don’t reach any target,” Ms Williams added.

The proposals have been opposed by the UK government, with the business secretary Vince Cable spearheading a campaign supported by ministers from eight other countries that argues the introduction of quotas would be counter-productive.

The UK currently has its own targets for boardroom quotas, with the aim of 25 per cent female representation in boardrooms by 2025 – a figure that currently stands at 16 per cent.

A common counter-argument to the idea of quotas is that it would force many companies to do something that could naturally occur over time; the result being that it fosters resentment and bias towards the individuals the quotas are intending to benefit – top female talent.

Instead, what is needed is a culture change at every level of each global organisation – something highlighted by Dragons’ Den star and entrepreneur Hilary Devey.

She ardently opposes the legislation and has argued that the only way of eliminating the unconscious bias present in companies across the world is to educate leaders and other workers about their deep-seated beliefs regarding female employees.

Simply telling them that they must promote more women to the upper echelons of the company will not be successful, she insists.

“As you know, I do not think quotas are the answer. Self regulation is the best answer, not imposition,” Ms Devey commented after Ms Reding’s announcement.

Her view is one shared by the Conservative MEP for London, Marina Yannakoudakis, who said it is “clear” that quotas imposed by the EU are not only unwanted, but unworkable too.

“I hope Ms Reding will take the hint: member states don’t want quotas, the commission doesn’t want quotas and I know many members of the European Parliament don’t want quotas,” she explained.

“Let’s put a stop to this quota nonsense once and for all and talk about the real issue of supporting diversity in business.”

Ms Reding appears to be adamant about introducing the quotas – commenting after the postponement that she will “not give up” in her fight to introduce the gender balance directive.

“Europe has a lot to gain from more diverse corporate boards. The European Parliament has called for action to get more women into boardrooms. The time to act is now,” she commented.

However, the fact that any announcement about the legislation has been delayed and opposition against the proposals is so fierce suggests that any implementation remains some way off.

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