Broads, Boards and Brussels

by Frances Robinson for The Wall Street Journal, March 1st, 2011.

On ne naît pas femme: on le devient” (One is not born a woman, but becomes one), Simone de Beauvoir wrote in 1949, crystallizing the essence of modern feminism. The movement she helped create is now praised and blamed for everything from improving womens’ literacy in the developing world to men being immature losers: one thing it hasn’t achieved, however, is filling the boardrooms of Europe with women.

After Beauvoir, another French-speaking, formidably-coiffed, former journalist has taken up this particular struggle on behalf of the sisterhood: EU Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding held an event today to discuss why only 1 in 10 board members at Europe’s biggest companies are women. In a world where the CEO of Germany’s biggest bank can say female presence makes boards “more colorful and prettier,” this certainly needs tackling, but how much can the EU actually do?

According to Ms. Reding’s report, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark have introduced corporate governance codes and/or voluntary charters that have led to more women getting on boards, while Norway, France and Spain legislate in this area, but the Lady from Luxembourg wants more, and said so at an event she co-chaired with European Central Bank Executive Board Member (and woman) Gertrude Tumpel-Gugerell.

“I want to send a clear message to corporate Europe: women mean business… I believe that self-regulation could make a difference if it is credible and effective across Europe. However, I will come back to the matter in a year. If self-regulation fails, I am prepared to take further action at EU level.” (continue reading… )


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