On September 17, 2012, nine EU member-states signed a letter to the European Commission in opposition to a proposed law that would mandate that women occupy 40% of seats on corporate supervisory boards by 2020. Proponents of the law say the mandate is a necessary change and that there is no time like the present. The opposition argues that the European Commission vowed not to increase economic regulation following the recession in 2008 and that the mandate would constitute a burdensome regulation. Others argue the law tarnishes the merits of those (women or men) that have progressed to such positions without a mandate and the new regulation would lead to “tokenism.”
I have always been an advocate of increasing the amount of women in leadership roles in both public and private sectors—especially in the “progressive” countries of the West. Apparently some in the EU feel the same; Viviane Reding, the vice president of the European Commission, has been the main proponent of the law which would apply to all companies with over 250 employees and annual sales of $63 million or higher. After years of attempting to increase the amount of women in leadership roles through giving voluntary incentives to corporations, the EU has had little success in doing so. The U.K., one of the law’s main opponents, has touted its two percent increase in women executives this year—now at 15.6—as a monumental success. I find that laughable, at best.
There is a need for women at the top of the business world, and those arguing that the mandate would create greater “burdensome regulation” for European companies in a time of recession are the same men who, in many ways, created the circumstances for the recession to occur. Increasing women’s roles as corporate executives should be seen as a welcome change, not a burden.
The argument that most upset me was that mandating companies to hire women executives would diminish the merits of other executives. A female writer infuriated me, saying “if we are taking these seats for anything other than merit, it subtracts any pride that the promotion to that position should have.” Her argument invokes imagery of EU politicians swooping uneducated women out their kitchens, slapping the name “CEO” on them and tossing them in the back of the board room to stay quiet. The fact that one (man or woman) is considered for an executive position should be a source of pride by itself. In a world where women have the odds stacked against them, the women who comprise the mandated 40% will have been educated, successful and hardworking before even being considered for the position. I say it’s time to stack the odds just a little more in the favor of women.
Although no one is arguing that there is not a need for more female executives—at least publicly—the ardent opposition to the law, coupled with bad arguments against it, makes me think that the boy’s club that leads these countries’ corporations wants its board rooms to stay just that, a boy’s club.