So what's happening at EU level around gender?

Gender diversity is rising in public awareness and becoming more frequent as a subject of conversation, but what are we talking about? Where is this going?

"Despite an intense public debate and some voluntary initiatives at national and European level, the situation has not changed significantly in recent years: an incremental average increase of the number of women on boards of just 0.6 percentage points per year has been recorded since 2003." (EU press release from Nov14, 2012)

In Europe, one of the major drivers of Gender Diversity is an EU proposal from November 14th 2012. It provided support to ongoing initiatives and solid motivation to those who had not yet made it a priority.

Many people have heard about this EU directive but few know the numbers, so I thought of looking them up again and giving you the exact figures, straight from the EU press release:

"Today the European Commission has taken action to break the glass ceiling that continues to bar female talent from top positions in Europe’s biggest companies. The Commission has proposed legislation with the aim of attaining a 40% objective of the under-represented sex in non-executive board-member positions in publicly listed companies, with the exception of small and medium enterprises. Currently, boards are dominated by one gender: 85% of non-executive board members and 91.1% of executive board members are men, while women make up 15% and 8.9% respectively."


Specifically, this is what was decided:

"The proposed Directive sets an objective of a 40% presence of the under-represented sex among non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchanges. Companies which have a lower share (less than 40%) of the under-represented sex among the non-executive directors will be required to make appointments to those positions on the basis of a comparative analysis of the qualifications of each candidate, by applying clear, gender-neutral and unambiguous criteria. Given equal qualification, priority shall be given to the under-represented sex. The objective of attaining at least 40% membership of the under-represented sex for the non-executive positions should thus be met by 2020 while public undertakings – over which public authorities exercise a dominant influence – will have two years less, until 2018. The proposal is expected to apply to around 5 000 listed companies in the European Union. It does not apply to small and medium-sized enterprises (companies with less than 250 employees and an annual worldwide turnover not exceeding 50 million EUR) or non-listed companies."


Two years earlier, in 2010, the EU Agency for Safety and Health at Work (OSHA), held a seminar on women at work. The brief on this seminar gives interesting insight on the situation at that time:

"Progress has been made, overall, the greater focus on women who work, in respect of their OSH, was noted, but there are still gaps within the research, within the policy and within the prevention measures that are in place at present. For example, women are still less likely to receive training at the workplace and less likely to have support and control within their jobs. Further, women and men remain segregated across and between sectors and across and within jobs. While the gender aspect of OSH has to remain on the various work-related agendas, this has to be gender focused, rather than women-focused, in order to ensure that the working environment becomes safer for the employee regardless of gender, age, education level and diverse group to which they belong. Gender mainstreaming i.e. ensuring gender equality through policy development, research, legislation, resources and the planning, implementation and monitoring of programmes and projects, is still a primary focus in the workplace."


In November 2013, the proposal was turned Resolution by the EU Parliament as related in this press release. The next step, in 2014, will be for the directive to be endorsed by the Council of Ministers so it can take effect. 


We have 6 years to increase the precentage of women on boards by about 30% so there is a lot to do to get there. There are great opportunities for women with skills and ambitions to fill those 30% but not just there. Increasing the presence and visibility in the highest functions should make most other jobs more accessible to women.

The future looks bright. Put on those shades!

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