Under the proposed rules, listed companies with a registered office in an EU country will be required to aim to appoint women to at least 40% of non-executive director roles, or 33% of all board jobs by 2027.
The 27 member states' employment and social affairs ministers have agreed in principle on the proposal. This is the latest attempt to advance a draft law that has been stalled for a decade. The new rules, which must now be negotiated with the European Parliament, would be enforced in the country where a company is located.
“We want to break the glass ceiling preventing talented women from acceding to boards,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted. “And we know that legislation works.”
Élisabeth Borne, French Minister for Labour, Employment and Economic Inclusion, said the agreement was an important step forward. “I call for a swift start to negotiations with the European Parliament with a view to the final adoption of this directive, which will help to address the glass ceiling with which women are still too often faced in the world of work.”
In a joint statement, the ministers said while progress had been made towards greater gender equity on corporate boards, imbalance remains. “In October 2021, only 30.6% of board members and just 8.5% of board chairs were women. The gap between member states is wide. Those where measures have been put in place are making much faster progress than those in which they have not.”
In putting forward the new rules, the Council said that increasing the proportion of women in economic decision-making positions will lead to positive spill-over effects throughout the economy. “Furthermore, around 60% of new university graduates in the EU are women. Improving the gender balance on company boards would thus also allow the large number of highly qualified women in Europe to realise their full potential.”
Eight EU countries, including France, already have quotas on a national level, and could opt out of the bloc-wide rules. Other countries that have moved towards the targets through other means could do the same.