As early as 2012, the European Commission presented a Proposal for a Directive, which was supposed to pave the way for qualified women to join the supervisory boards of big listed companies. Since then, six years have passed and due to the blockade of a small number of Member States in the Council, the Directive is still on ice. That binding gender quotas are an effective way to increase the women’s share in leading positions, is also confirmed by the Frauen.Management.Report 2019, which was presented by the Chamber of Labour on 27.02.2019.
Already in November 2013, the European Parliament had voted with a large cross-party majority in favour of the so-called “Directive on Women on Boards”. The aim was to achieve a quota of the underrepresented gender of 40 % in controlling bodies. However, due to reservations of several Member States it had not been possible to reach agreement. Since then, the proposal is with the Council, where it is – among other by Germany – blocked.
At the end of 2018, the new Spanish government asked the Austrian Presidency to withdraw its reservations against the Directive and to work towards a European solution. The S&D fraction of the European Parliament used this changed majority situation in the Council as an opportunity to present the Council with a question to learn, among other, of the current position of the Member States concerning the dossier. This question was the basis for a debate in the European Parliament on 31.01.2019. In the debate, both the Commissioner for Gender Equality, Věra Jourová, and the Romanian State Secretary Melania Ciot supported a EU-wide gender quota on supervisory boards and once again emphasised its importance. Apart from that, both promised to work towards breaking the blocking minority in the Council, which exists in spite of the reorientation of the Spanish position.
MEP Evelyn Regner, author of the question to the Council and chief negotiator of the European Parliament for this Directive, commented the debate in Parliament with the following words: “I am fighting for a Europe in which women have every chance - that also applies to the executive floors. Unfortunately, the Council has been delaying this important directive on the fair allocation of supervisory board posts to companies for years. First and foremost, Germany is blocking progress in gender equality". During the debate, the MEP also called for the Presidency to have a stronger influence on countries such as Hungary, where the women’s share has even decreased.
The Chamber of Labour very much welcomes the initiative of the Romanian Presidency to solve the blockade in the Council among other through intensified bilateral talks, as a speedy agreement is more than desirable after the long standstill.
The Frauen.Management.Report.2019, which this week was published by the Chamber of Labour, confirms that gender quotas in executive boards are a suitable means to increase the women’s share. As of 01.01.2018, Austria has joined the line of European countries that provide for a mandatory gender quota (30 %) on certain supervisory boards. As a result, the women’s share in listed companies, which are obliged to fulfil a quota, increased from January 2018 to January 2019 from 22 % to 27.5 %. About half of the companies at the Vienna Stock Exchange, which are obliged to fulfil a quota, have already done so. Unfortunately, with regard to supervisory boards of listed companies, to which a mandatory women’s quote does not apply, there has only been an increase by 2.1 percent to overall 13.8 %. In all companies with supervisory board, the women’s share is only 18.2 %.
The current figures also show that women in management positions and on boards are even less well represented that on supervisory boards. According to the Frauen.Management.Report.2019, 95.1 % of board positions are filled by men. In this male "monoculture" there is therefore an urgent need to catch up, especially if one looks at the effectiveness of quotas in supervisory boards. Hence, the introduction of gender quotas at management level would not only be an important step for Austria, but also at European level to ensure gender equality for all women in top positions.