EU adopts directive to ensure gender equality in executive positions

  • This new European law is a major step forward in the fight for equal opportunities in leadership positions.
  • Ursula von der Leyen is once again representing the importance of women in senior positions.

On 22 November, a new European directive came into force that aims to achieve a gender balance on the corporate boards of organisations. By 2026, companies will have to have 40% of their “non-executive” management staff identifying with the “under-represented” gender in the company. The figure will be 33% if we consider all female managers in the organisation.

This Directive is approved in a context where the President of the European Commission (EC), Ursula von der Leyen, has been in charge of finalising this legislation. It is a very important measure in the fight to achieve gender equality in important positions. The document has also been promoted by EC Vice-President Věra Jourová and Commissioner Helena Dalli.

“This is a long-awaited moment, a moment to be celebrated as a breakthrough in gender equality.

After ten years since it was proposed by the European Commission, we will now have an EU law to break the glass ceiling on the boards of listed companies.

There are many women qualified for the top jobs and, with our new European law, we will make sure they have a real chance of getting them.” Explains the statement issued by the EC.

The road to getting the directive passed has been complicated and long. It was in 2012 that the first draft of this proposal was launched. The European Parliament approved the text in 2013. Obstacles appeared when the text was taken to the Council of the European Union. Agreement could not be reached among all member states. They did not believe that binding measures on this issue were the best instrument to achieve real equality.

When von der Leyen took office as President of the European Commission, she pledged to build a majority that would succeed in unblocking the measure.

Finally, on 14 March 2022, the EU Council accepted the text. On 7 July an agreement was reached between the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. This last step is what provides the final “yes” to any binding measure coming into force in the territory of the European Union.

The aim of this directive is to ensure gender equality on the boards of directors of large European companies listed in the EU. It also seeks to ensure transparency in appointments to board positions. This involves establishing equal evaluation criteria for candidates, with no questions associated with the sex or gender of the person being interviewed. There must be objectivity in these criteria, which must be based solely on individual professional merit without regard to gender.