The European Commission is expected to present a legal instrument aimed at increasing gender balance on company boards in the EU on 14 November 2012. It is anticipated that the new legal instrument will require Europe’s listed companies to ensure that by 2020 at least 40% of non-executive board positions are filled by women.

Many companies, political representatives and other stakeholders are not in favour of mandatory quotas at EU level and the proposals could potentially prove to be quite controversial. The UK Government in particular appear to be strongly opposed to any pan-European introduction of mandatory quotas and favour a more flexible voluntary approach and have indicated this to the European Commission. However some European countries have already introduced their own quotas in this area and therefore the proposal will not be regarded as so significant a culture shock in certain quarters.

Currently, across the EU, 86.5% of board members are men while women represent just 13.5% (8.9% of executive members and 15% of non-executive members). 97.5% of the chairpersons are men and only 2.5% are women.