Gender balance in business leadership

Across the EU, women are noticeably under-represented in leadership positions in business. After several attempts to encourage self-regulation as a means to address this issue, and not having observed widespread results, the European Commission, in 2012, issued a communication and proposal for a new law.


In January 2012, only 14 % of board members of major EU publicly listed companies and just 3 % of the chairpersons of these companies were women.

Although on the EU's political agenda for many years, there is a renewed impetus in the promotion of gender equality on the boards of the largest listed companies. In 2010, the European Commission adopted its own strategy for equality between women and men. This was followed, in 2011, by its launch of the ‘Women on the board pledge for Europe’ which called on publicly listed companies in Europe to voluntarily commit to increasing women's presence-on their boards to 30 % by 2015 and 40 % by 2020.

Not having noted much progress, except in a few countries which had introduced laws (or had considered doing so), in 2012 the Commission issued a communication outlining the state of play in the field, accompanied by a proposal for an EU-wide law setting procedural quotas.

The communication looks at the reasons why women are under-represented in business leadership positions and the main obstacles to their career progression.

It is anticipated that opening the door to senior positions will encourage women to enter and stay in the workforce, thus helping to meet the employment target of 75 % set by the EU’s Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

The communication suggests complementing the proposed law with a comprehensive approach that would combine policy measures and financial support to improve women’s participation in the labour market and in leadership positions. Examples of actions that will be supported are as follows:



Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — Gender balance in business leadership: a contribution to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth (COM(2012) 615 final of 14.11.2012)


Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on improving the gender balance among non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchanges and related measures (COM(2012) 614 final of 14.11.2012).

last update 30.10.2015