Fair representation for women on company boards

2012, Women's Rights

Here is an article I wrote for Shifting Grounds blog on 27 November 2012.

As a member of the European Parliament’s Gender Equality and Women’s Rights Committee I have worked for a number of years to increase women’s participation in decision-making. 

Gender equality is a core value of the EU, from the bloc’s founding treaty in 1957 which included the principle of equal pay for equal work, to the Charter of Fundamental Rights which recognises the right to equality between women and men in all areas, and the need for positive action.

The latest proposal to promote women’s participation in economic decision-making is a proposal from the European Commission about women on boards. It comes after years of the Commission encouraging Member States to take action, with mixed results. Currently oonly 14% of company board positions in the largest listed companies in the EU are held by women, compared to 16% in the UK.  The Commission’s proposal, which will apply only to companies with a turnover in excess of 50 million euros a year, is that the proportion should be at least 40% by 2020. Member States that take measures “of equivalent efficacy” for more balanced boards would be exempt from the new rules. Sanction for non-compliance will be the responsibility of member states.

Having more women on boards is a basic question of fairness.  Women make up half the population and 60% of graduates.  More than 70% of purchasing decisions are made by women.  Yet too often non-executive directors are recruited through an “old boys’ network” from among business and personal contacts of current board members.  The European Commission proposal sets out to have these male-dominated opaque recruitment practices replaced by transparent selection procedures and objective qualification criteria.  This is what is required to smash the glass ceiling.  Qualification and merit will still be the key criteria for a job on the board – and there are over 7,000 highly qualified women with professional experience ready to take over a board position[1]

The aim of the EU legislation is to speed up the varying rate of progress in Member States.  Across the EU women’s representation on corporate boards has increased by just 0.6% per year since 2003. However in France which introduced binding quota legislation in 2010 the number of women on boards has doubled to 22.3%.   In the UK self-regulatory measures have put us on course to reach 27% by 2015, and 37% by 2020[2], more than likely putting the UK in the category excluded by Brussels from the new provisions.

[1] European Business Schools Women on Board Initiative
[2] Cranfield School of Management Female FTSE Report


2012, London, Olympics, prostitution, Trafficking
Whilst a strong supporter of the Olympics and the opportunities it will offer the vibrant capital  that is my home, I am deeply concerned that unless decisive action is taken quickly the games may spark a rise in prostitution.
London's Olympic Stadium

London's Olympic Stadium

Fortunately, it now seems that the Metropolitan Police are beginning to share these concerns. A report they published this week  warned that an increase in prostitution and trafficking linked to the Games would put women at risk.
Over a million construction workers are set to work on the site over the next three years, when added together with spectators and athletes cxould a fuel a sex trade time bomb.
Kerb Crawling

Kerb Crawling

During the Athens Games, sex trafficking almost doubled and there were reports of sex attacks in the athletes’ village at Sydney in 2000.

The BBC reported yesterday that a  small increase in the number of trafficked women working in the five Olympic host boroughs has already been noted.

Previously when I have approached the police and the councils concerned on these issues they have backed away from making any link between sex crimes and sporting events, even when I used figures showing dramatic increases in trafficking in w0men around the Germany World Cup, which I also used to call for greater protections for women in last years Euro 2008 on Women’s Hour last year.
Given that the Met are now responsive on this topic I will look to work with them on reducing the risk to London women, caused by a potential surge in teh sex trade around the Olympics, over the next three years.


2012, Edward Leigh, London, Olympics, Public Accounts Committee, Tessa Jowell

Seventy-five pence in every one pound spent on the Olympic site will aid regeneration in east London. The Olympics will be of tremendous benefit to certain run down areas of London badly in need of extra resources.

Instead of supporting the Olympic preparations and understanding the opportunity the Games will provide for London and the country as a whole, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has now jumped on the anti-Olympic bandwagon. Edward Leigh, Tory Chairman of the PAC has accused ministers and officials of underestimating the true cost in order to win government and public support for the bid.

Tessa Jowell, the Olympics Minister, has denied that there was any intention to mislead on the costings for the Games. Quite right too. We need to stop whinging and get on with the Olympic project which will be good for London and good for Britain.


2012, London, Olympics

Will the interminable Olympic bashing ever end? In case the whingers hadn’t realised, the UK and London worked hard to host the games. We believed the Olympics would promote London as a world class city and leave a lasting legacy of regeneration and superb sports facilities.

A report from the New Economics Foundation is now saying the Games will not improve the lives of the poorest people in London. They cite previous Olympics in other countries as evidence for this assertion. It may simply be that those who held the Games in the past did not intend to provide any kind of economic boost for the less well or improve decaying infrastructure.

In case the whingers hadn’t noticed, the 2012 Olympics intend to do both these things. The Olympics will be a huge benefit to London and Londoners. Please let’s talk up our amazing opportunity.