Is the EU’s attempts to create a law enforcing a quota of 40% of women on corporate boards a good example of positive discrimination?

For those of you who are unaware of the current proposals, the European Commission Vice President Viviane Reding, is proposing a law that will enforce quotas of 40% for the representation of women on European corporate boards by 2020.

Many would agree that this is a positive step forward in the fight to get more women into senior management and boardroom levels. The BBC found that only 16% of women are on the board of directors for the Top 100 companies and only a third of all women are at boardroom level.

Board members of the EU's top publicly listed companies 2011

However, are these proposals a positive thing? Is positive discrimination going to cause more problems than anticipated?

Some would point to Norway, who has enforced a quota requiring companies to have at least 40% of women as part of their boards. It has shown to be a very effective at showcasing the capabilities of women to hold these positions and lead the company.

The fact of the matter is, Norway and Nordic countries have been known to be very equal with gender opportunities.

Who is to say this would work in other countries and cultures?

One of the main issues is that a male who is very skilled at his job may miss out on a role in the boardroom or even lose his position on the board because of this quota. The question is, are there enough women at present capable of fulfilling this role?

Wouldn’t the female population rather earn their place on the board on merit rather than just having it handed to them?

Wajcman (1998)  states “The Old Boy network remains the most significant single barrier for women”. 

Therefore is it not better to educate boardrooms away from this culture instead of forcing a quota on them? Could a diverse age range help break up the use of the Old Boy network?

When I mentioned earlier about causing more problems than anticipated, I meant problems could arise such as boardroom division due to the fact that existing boardroom members may feel the women haven’t earned their position on the board because of the quotas.

Will businesses panic and take any women to reach the criteria of the quota? Will this lead to companies under performing because of this?

This case of positive discrimination is a way of addressing an issue that has been around for many years. Whether it is the correct method is a question all in itself.

This issue has opened up the debate once again of women’s barriers to senior management level and hopefully a solution on merit, rather than because of a quota system, will be addressed.

By Daniel Lifton


6 thoughts on “Is the EU’s attempts to create a law enforcing a quota of 40% of women on corporate boards a good example of positive discrimination?

  1. You raise a few good points Daniel. Being a woman myself I do believe that woman should have the chance to be in senior management or boardroom level roles however I don’t think that a candidate should be promoted to this level without the necessary skills that are involved. I don’t think positive discrimination for woman with the 40% quota is the correct way to make changes in the industry.

  2. From my perspective, a quota system, in this case, does not benefit anybody: men are constantly under the threat of losing their job and feel disadvantaged, while women will never comply with a situation where they got a job just because of their gender. So, I think that the problem lays somewhere in the background. If the Government wants to support women to get top positions, then, perhaps it should invest more in their education and professional training. In all cases, jobs should be given according to skills and knowledge and not to gender, religion or race.

    Check out our post on women discrimination! 🙂

  3. I think there is too much focus on this topic that people are missing the point, you can’t make water flow up hill. No matter how much you want it, how much you ask for it, how much you legislate it, it won’t happen.
    It’s time that we moved on and let boards structure themselves and focus on profit and sustainability which in turn benefit our economy, not on the demongraphic make up of their board room and how many pink towels to buy for the executive washroom.
    If women, (or blacks, gays, disabled etc) want their seat at the board table, earn it. As long as there is no descrimination going on, let nature take its course.
    If you want to climb the ladder, it takes effort. Why should business be forced to make compromises to fit in with the lives of the less driven and discriminate against the more driven?

  4. Positive discrimination for women is negative discrimination against men. It is to my mind insane to fight discrimination by further discrimination. We are now all equal under the law and things should be left to develop gradually in a natural way. It is in the interest of business to choose the best qualified so things will change as more and more women get “ready” for this type of jobs.

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