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EU quota for women in companies expected this autumn

Quota for women in EU companies this autumn

It took ten years but this autumn, the European Parliament is expected to approve quotas for women in leadership roles in EU companies giving companies four years to go from today’s average of 30.6% women to 40%. First European country to introduce this level was Norway that already 2003 took the decision. According to latest statistics women today hold 41.5% of senior management positions in Norway. In Iceland, that often is a top country for women representation, the number is 47.1%.

The impact in Norway has been more women in senior positions but earlier arguments that companies would be more profitable with more women on boards have not held, according to research.

Karin Thorburn, professor of finance at the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) and her colleagues Espen Eckbo and Knut Nygaard investigated whether share prices were affected by the quota decision.

“We found no difference in the long run. The companies did neither better nor worse after changing the composition of the board,” Thorburn recently told Norwegian website

“We found no differences in operating profits over time. The imposed female quota had no effect on companies’ value development,” says Thorburn.


“The persistent gender imbalance among key decision-makers in large corporations and financial institutions remains a cause for concern”, says the European Institute for Gender Equality EIGE) that monitors the situation biannually for the largest listed companies in the EU Member States.

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The EIGE’s statistics show that only 3 in 10 board members in large corporations in the EU were women In October 2021 (the last available statistics).

“The share of women on the boards of the largest publicly listed companies registered in the EU-27 has reached a new high of 30.6 %. France (45.3 % women) remains the only Member State in which the largest listed companies have gender balance (at least 40 % of each gender) at board level. At least one third of board members are women in Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Finland, Denmark and Austria, but fewer than 1 in 10 board members are women in Hungary, Estonia and Cyprus.”


“Progress towards better representation of women on boards was very slow between 2003 and 2010 (0.5 percentage points (pp)/year). It accelerated between 2010 and 2015 (average of 2.1 pp/year), reflecting rapid improvements in France, Italy and Germany, following their introduction of legislative quotas. However, as these countries moved closer to legislative targets, progress slowed to just 1.4 pp/year between October 2015 and October 2021.”

EIGE says that in October 2021, women held one third (33.3 %) of non-executive positions in the top two decision-making bodies of the largest listed companies in the EU-27, compared to just one fifth (20.2 %) of executive positions.

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“This disparity is reflected in 19 Member States. Of the eight exceptions, Romania and Estonia have the highest shares of women executives – around 3 in 10 each – yet remain among the five countries with less than 20 % women non-executives.”

EIGE explains this saying legislative quotas typically only apply to the top-level board which tends to be wholly or predominantly comprised of non-executives, so executive positions may not be affected.

“Despite the progress at board level, driven by legislative action in several Member States, women continue to be excluded from top positions. Fewer than 1 in 10 of the largest listed companies in the EU-27 have a woman chair (8.5 %) or CEO (7.8 %).”


The European Parliament earlier this summer announced that after being blocked in the European Council for a decade, negotiators finally agreed on a bill to increase the presence of women on corporate boards. The formal decision is that 40% of non/executive director posts in companies in the EU should go to the “under-represented sex”, which normally means “women”. Small and medium sized enterprises with up to 249 employees will be excluded.

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Diversity is not only a matter of fairness. It also drives growth and innovation. The business case for having more women in leadership is clear. After ten years, since the European Commission proposed this directive, it is high time we break the glass ceiling. There are plenty of women qualified for top jobs: they should be able to get them”, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said when the Parliament’s and the Council’s negotiators finally had reached an agreement.

The so-called “Women on Boards” Directive aims to introduce transparent recruitment procedures in companies, so that at least 40% of non-executive director posts or 33% of all director posts are occupied by the under-represented sex.

Main elements of the Directive are:

  • At least 40% of the underrepresented gendemust be represented in non-executive boards of listed companies or 33% among all directors. Member States have to ensure that companies strive to achieve this objective. Those companies that do not achieve those objectives must apply transparent and gender neutral criteria in the appointment of  directors and prioritise the underrepresented sex where two candidates of different sexes are equally qualified.
  •  Clear and transparent board appointment procedures with objective assessment based on merit, irrespective of gender. The selection procedure of non-executive directors will need to comply to the following binding measures:
    • Where two candidates of different sexes are equally qualified, preference shall be given to the candidate of the underrepresented sex, in companies where the target for gender balance is not achieved.
    • Companies must disclose their qualification criteria should the unsuccessful candidate request it. Companies are further responsible to prove no measures were transgressed, if there is suspicion that an unsuccessful candidate of the underrepresented sex was equally qualified.
    • Companies must undertake individual commitments to reach gender balance among their executive directors.
    • Companies that fail to meet the objective of this Directive must report the reasons and the measures they are taking to address this shortcoming.
    • Member States’ penalties for companies that fail to comply with selection and reporting obligations must be effective, proportionate and dissuasive They could include fines and nullity or annulment of the contested director’s appointment. Member States shall also publish information on companies’ that are reaching targets, which would serve as peer-pressure to complement enforcement (“faming” provision).

Positions in percentage held by women in senior management positions 2021 (latest available data from EIGE)

EU 27 average 30.6

Belgium 37.9

Bulgaria 21.7

Czechia 23.0

Denmark 34.9

Germany 36.0

Estonia 9.1

Ireland 30.2

Greece 19.6

Spain 32.6

France 45.3

Croatia 23.4

Italy 38.8

Cyprus 8.5

Latvia 22.2

Lithuania 22.3

Luxembourg 22.4

Hungary 9.4

Malta 10.8

Netherlands 38.1

Austria 34.6

Poland 24.7

Portugal 31.0

Romania 17.5

Slovenia 19.4

Slovakia 27.7

Finland 35.2

Sweden 37.9


Norway 41.5

Iceland 47.1

UK 37.8

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