Only one in 10 board members of Europe’s biggest listed companies is a woman and all central bank governors in the EU are male. The economy would benefit by having full representation of both men and women in top positions.
“If Europe is serious about getting out of the crisis and becoming a competitive economy through smart and inclusive growth then we have to make better use of women’s talents and skills. Gender equality is therefore at the heart of our Europe 2020 strategy: getting women into work will help us get out of the crisis,” said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship and Vice-President of the European Commission. “Studies have shown that companies where women are well represented also perform best financially. I call on companies and governments to work hard to make sure gender balance in senior positions becomes a reality. I also encourage talented women to take on the challenge of board membership and to apply as candidates for top jobs.”
The report, “More women in senior positions key to economic stability and growth,” shows that women continue to be severely under-represented in economic decision-making. In the corporate world, men account for nearly 89% of the board members in Europe’s biggest listed companies. The disparity is widest at the very top where only 3% of such companies have a woman in charge. Norway stands out as the only country with anything approaching gender balance: 42% women and 58% men on the boards of the largest listed companies a result of a legal quota.
At the same time several studies have now shown that gender diversity pays off and that there is a positive correlation between the share of women in senior positions and company performance. For example, a study conducted in Finland found that firms with a gender-balanced board are on average 10% more profitable than those with an all-male board.
In political decision-making, the European Parliament is now at its most gender-balanced level since its inception in 1979, with 35% women and 65% men. The proportion of women members of national parliaments (single/lower house) across Europe as a whole has risen from 16% in 1997 to 24% in 2009. However, it is still well below the so-called critical mass of 30% deemed necessary for women to exert meaningful influence in politics. In national governments, the situation is improving steadily with the share of women senior ministers in EU governments at 27%. The European Commission counts nine women Commissioners (33%) and eighteen men (67%), the best gender balance yet up from 5.6% in 1994/1995.
Over half (55%) of the Europeans polled in a recent Eurobarometer survey thought that the female/male ratio in parliaments should be addressed “urgently”. With the worldwide economic crisis, women’s role in businesses is increasingly important. For companies to survive and manage during the crisis, they need to have the best governance and attract the best talent possible. According to a study conducted under the Swedish EU Presidency in 2009, eliminating gender gaps in employment in the EU Member States could lead to a potential 15% – 45% increase in GDP.
Rapid progress is therefore needed to achieve more equal representation of women and men in senior positions in all fields and at all levels.