The European Commission recently published a Q&A document on 50 years of EU action on Gender Equality.

Launching the Q&A, Vice-President Viviane Reding said: "Five decades of European Union action have advanced gender equality on our continent. We have developed laws guaranteeing equal pay for equal work, equality in the workplace and minimum rights to maternity leave. We have made the EU's founding principles a tangible reality in Europeans' everyday lives. This is something we can and should be proud of: gender equality is a European achievement".

One of the key issues addressed in the Q&A concerns the actions taken within the EU to promote gender equality on company boards.

In its reply, the Commission outlines the history of gender diversity and gender quotas in the EU, ending with the proposal in November 2012 of the Directive setting a 40% objective of the under-represented sex in non-executive board-member positions in publicly listed companies, with the exception of small and medium enterprises (IP/12/1205 and MEMO/12/860).

The Commission states that although the proposal is not yet law, it is already having an effect. The share of women on boards in publicly listed companies is on the rise (see IP/13/51): women represented on average 15.8% of board room members in October 2012, up from 11.8% two years earlier. The new figure represents a 2.2 percentage point increase as compared to October 2011 and is the highest year on year change yet recorded. An increase in the share of women on boards has been recorded in all but four EU countries.