Labour MEPs: UK government must stop blocking EU targets to improve gender balance on company boards

Labour MEPs are demanding the UK government stops blocking an EU directive on mandatory targets to improve the gender balance on company boards.

Mary Honeyball MEP, Labour’s European Parliament spokesperson on women’s rights and gender equality, has written to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, to urge the government to support the proposals and use next week’s meeting of Europe’s employment ministers as an opportunity for constructive discussion.

In 2012, the European Commission proposed a directive aimed at introducing an objective of at least 40 per cent of non-executive director board members being of the underrepresented gender. The following year, MEPs voted for the proposal, with the aim of a 40 per cent target for women’s representation on the boards of all listed companies in the EU by 2020, with the exception of SMEs.

Tomorrow, the European Parliament will ask an Oral Question to the European Council on women on boards, urging national governments to reach an agreement and to finalise the proposal in the coming months.

The Council will be asked what the state of play is regarding the proposal, what are the main problems preventing them finding a common position, and what the Luxembourg Presidency is doing to expedite the process.

Mary Honeyball MEP said:

“With so many new challenges and opportunities facing British businesses, we cannot afford to miss out on the talent and experience of half the population. Various studies have shown companies with more women on their boards tend to outperform their rivals.

“Some progress has been made and women now make up a quarter of board members on FTSE 100 companies. But this shows only part of the picture.

“When you look behind the headline figures, progress has been achieved to a large extent by appointing women as part-time non-executive directors. Less than nine per cent of executive directors in FTSE 100 companies are women. Men continue to hold the real power in our boardrooms.

“Since the Commission’s draft was published, the representation of women on company boards has increased from 16.6% to 21.2%. It remains well below 40%, and shows that without firm action nothing will really change.

“By blocking the proposed directive, the Tory government is being complacent about both women’s empowerment and Britain’s economic growth.”