Gender Considerations on the Boards of European Union Companies: Lesson for U.S. Corporations or Cautionary Tale?

2015Articles Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law

Catherine A. Savio co authored the Thomson Reuters Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law article, "Gender Considerations on the Boards of European Union Companies: Lesson for U.S. Corporations or Cautionary Tale?" 

On October 3, 2012, Viviane Reding, then Justice Minister and a Vice President of the Commission of the European Union (“EU” or Union), announced a proposed directive mandating that all listed companies in the Union implement a forty percent gender quota on their corporate boards. Reding proposed the directive in response to the slow progress in achieving gender diversity at the highest level of business decision-making on boards throughout the Union after other, less stringent, attempts at increasing diversity on corporate boards had failed. Although Reding faced significant opposition from several Member States, on November 14, 2012, the Commission proposed a directive asking that companies reach the forty percent objective by 2020.

Men and women are stereotyped in our culture to the detriment of both genders in their family and work roles. The kernels of truth in the stereotypes are exaggerated to become straight-jackets for both sexes. While men seem to hold all the advantages as far as pathways to high positions in business, they may be forced by the business culture to lose out on family. Men currently hold many more than forty percent of the seats and often know each other from business school and business associations in which they not only talk about business but also share their various interests in sports, golfing, and, depending on where they live, hunting and fishing trips and other common interests. The culture of the un-accountable “boy forever” of the hard-charging alpha male who bullies and takes advantage of other employees is frequently and unconsciously seen as under threat from the sober, hard-working woman, although that dangerous culture is not assessed in these terms. The office's discomfort with what is seen as at best an interference with male culture and at worst a destruction of that behavior leads business to an unacknowledged, confused assessment of women as either nurturing or neutering for the men in the office. 

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Reprinted with permission from the Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law. (c) 2015 Thomson Reuters. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.