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Correspondence

Golden Skirts and Women Quotas

Viviane Reding is a woman on a mission.  She believes Europe’s major companies are run by an old boys’ network that excludes female colleagues from top jobs.  And since Reding is the E.U. commissioner for justice, fundamental rights, and citizenship, she is in a position to do something about it.  She has proposed a quota for all of the European Union’s publicly listed companies of 40-percent female board members by 2020.  Currently, women account for only 12 percent.

The quota has divided the European Union.  Most member countries have taken some measures to try to boost the number of female board members.  But many feel this is a national matter and not an E.U. concern.  In June, the Netherlands and nine other countries submitted a formal letter of objection.

For Commissioner Reding, the quota has been a multiyear crusade.  In March 2011, she invited publicly listed companies to sign a voluntary pledge to make sure 30 percent of their board members are women by 2015 and to increase that to 40 percent in 2020.  But the pledge wasn’t all that voluntary.  She vowed that in a year’s time she would check whether companies were promoting enough women.  “If this has happened by March 2012, I will congratulate the European business world.  If it has not happened, you can count on my regulatory creativity,” she said.

The...

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