The number of women on boards of directors has reportedly quadrupled between 2008 and 2020, showing that the binding approach of the EU's Quota Act is working, according to research by the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men (IGVM).
The number of women on the boards of directors of all private and public companies has quadrupled between 2008 and 2020, from 8.3% in 2008 to 34.1%. Additionally, 98.2% of companies complied with the Quota Act in 2020.
"This is a very encouraging result. Numerous studies show that gender diversity in decision-making bodies has a positive effect on the performance and governance of companies," said deputy director of the IGVM, Liesbet Stevens, in a press release.
"The evolution of the figures regarding the representation of women on the boards of directors shows that most companies of gender diversity have made a lever for their development," she added. Still, while the number of women on boards went up sharply, only 5.6% of companies had a woman at the head of their board of directors.
Removing certain obstacles
The situation is completely different with the management committees: since they are not covered by the law, they are also not required to achieve gender diversity results. As a result, the representation of women remains at a very low level: 14.5% in 2017 against 14.8% in 2020.
However, the figures also show that autonomous public companies and listed private companies are increasingly diverging: in public companies, the percentage of female board members nearly doubled (from 18.4% in 2017 to 30% in 2020), while in private companies, the percentage of women decreased from 14.2% to 13.9% in the same period.
"It is time to evolve the legislation to remove certain obstacles, especially at the level of the executive committees," Stevens added. "Implementing quotas is not a measure that is taken gladly, but they do allow us to act quickly in a situation of great inequality."
The 'Women On Board' draft directive, dating from 2012, has recently received a major boost from the French Presidency of the Council of the EU.
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On Thursday, at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) Council meeting in Luxembourg, Member States expressed their support for the final compromise, which provides for two options: either a 40% quota is set among the board of directors of listed private and public companies, or a 33% quota is set among the members of the board of directors and the executive committee.
Now, the draft directive can get approval in the European Parliament in September, after which Member States can start putting it into their national law.
“The Institute's figures once again demonstrate the effectiveness of the quotas. Ten years ago, Belgium went in the right direction for greater equality between women and men, and today we are among the best in the European class," said State Secretary for Gender Equality, Equal Opportunities and Diversity.
"The figures show that we must now focus our efforts on the feminisation of the executive committees," she added. "This directive is a good opportunity to move in that direction.”