December 18, 2012 — This has been a tumultuous year in Europe: an economic crisis, growing hardship, and a fiercely unstable workplace as organizations struggle to adapt. And yet, what has been noteworthy is the degree to which the issue of women’s dismal board representation has been catapulted into the spotlight.
Of course Catalyst, together with others, has long been making the business case, successfully, for women on boards. (I often wonder where the business case is for 12 men with the same backgrounds sitting on a board?!)
The acceptance of the business case, combined with Europe’s perilous economic situation, appears to have galvanized the corporate world—and hastened more vigorous and innovative talent management strategies. We must also thank Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner of Justice, Fundamental Rights, and Citizenship, for her tireless work on this issue. Ms. Reding has now set in motion a 40 percent “objective” for the proportion of non-executive women directors on the boards of Europe’s largest listed companies by 2020, though the figure currently stands at only 15 percent.
Europe, like the United States, is not a homogenous entity. There are wide variations in women’s participation in the top echelons of the business world. While only 2 to 3 percent of the boardrooms in Portugal and Italy are occupied by women, the boardrooms of most Nordic nations, led by Norway at 40 percent, have 20 percent or higher representation of women (apart from Denmark, which lingers below 14 percent).
Across all of Europe, though, there is fresh incentive for corporations to “move the needle,” and to move it quickly. Indeed, the European Commission has made it clear that failure to bring about distinct change in women’s representation on boards could very well lead to the imposition of quotas. (Eleven EU member states already have laws in place to promote gender equality on company boards.)
Let’s hope that Europe is now ready to embrace the economic truth: a sustainable and diverse pipeline of talent is necessary to its economic survival. And the time is undeniably right to get more women on board.