Women quotas can become reality in Denmark

Press conference in Strasbourg 8 March 2011: EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding gives the European companies one year to get more women on boards. If they do not succeed, she will introduce women quotas.

If Danish companies not make an effort in getting more women on boards, the EU Parliament will make a legislation, which forces companies to have at least 30% women on the board.

Text and photo by Maria Hesselvig Lange

8 March 2011 was the 100th Anniversary of Women Rights Day and this also became the day where EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding started the race for more women on boards.

“We have waited 100 years to get only 12% women on boards in Europe. I will not wait 100 years more. Therefore we need to take action now,” she said.

France got women quotas in January, and Italy, Belgium and Holland are the next to follow. Countries who are not interested in the quotas will get one year to improve their percentage of women on boards, and after this Viviane Reding has threatened, that she will legislate in this area.


Denmark is far behind its neighbours

Boards in Denmark are still far behind when compared with Norway and France. Both countries have introduced women quotas, which means that they have increased the number of women on boards significantly and now stands at 30-40%. In Denmark the situation is different. We only have 10% women on boards. Even though the companies have tried to do an effort in bringing more women onto boards nothing have seemed to help. Therefore has EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding proposed that the European countries will get a last chance of improving their percentage of women on boards. This means that the companies will have until 8 March 2012 to hire more women to their boards.

“If the companies will not do an effort in improving, we have to legislate in this area. I will give the companies this last chance and I really hope they will improve. Otherwise women quotas will become reality,” says Commissioner Reding.


Danish Government against quotas

In Denmark, the word “quota” seems to be a frightening word. This is at least what the general opinion is in the Danish Government, where they are very much against women quotas, as they think that the quotas will do more harm than good.

The Danish MEP, Jens Rohde (ALDE), follows the opinion of the government:

“Quotas for women on boards are a really bad idea for businesses and for women. For businesses because they are forced upon something, which is inflexible, and for women because they risk being marginalized. The qualified women who come into the boards will risk being seen as part of a quota, which may not be particularly nice when you sit in a boardroom.”

Jens Rohde points out that instead of making quotas the companies should make a gender policy with their own set of rules.

The Danish Opposition is generally voting for the women quotas, but not all members of the party agree. Their MEP Christel Schaldemose (S&D) has another opinion:

“Precisely in relation to companies, I do not think that you should force them. What should the punishment be if they fail to meet quotas? I think there must be an extreme political pressure and a carrot in the end. The companies who actually choose women should be able to get some more funding or something. I favour the carrot and not the punishment, and I think we’ll have to work on this position in relation to businesses.”

The Opposition parties, The Socialist People’s Party and The Danish Social Democrats, have in an equality proposal suggested that all Danish publicly listed companies are obliged by law to have at least 40% women on the board. It must, according to the two parties happen to break stereotypes and traditions of the companies, which they believe prevents equality at management.


Danish Industry against quotas

The Confederation of Danish Industry (DI) is not thrilled about Viviane Reding’s proposal regarding women quotas, and they strongly hope, that quotas will not become a reality in Denmark:

“DI works with different initiatives to promote women in management, but we do not believe that quotas are a particularly good solution, because we believe that the companies knows what is best for themselves and therefore they ensure that the right skills are present at their boards to perform best. It is important that companies can make these decisions by themselves,” says Helle Rebien, course supervisor on diversity region of DI.

DI thinks that because the gender differences in the different lines of businesses are too big, the quotas will simply not work. They mention Grundfos as an example:

“Their boards is primarily held by engineers, and as we have very few female engineers in Denmark it will naturally be a problem to find a woman who is skilled enough to take the seat instead of a man. Quotas will simply be a problem. On the other hand, if you look at the pharma industry it will be much easier to have quotas because of the overweight of women represented in this industry. Here you do not have to compromise with qualifications,” says Helle Rebien.


Men choose men – not women

The society have waited a long time for a possible increase in the number of female leaders, now that women have a longer education than men, but this increase has not happened, and therefore experts conclude that something must be done.

“Quotas are controversial, but it is needed to do something. We cannot just sit and wait anymore. The alternative was that we could voluntarily change the image but nothing happened. We miss a lot of talent, and we cannot afford that in Denmark. Studies have shown that women influence the effectiveness positive because more men will want to seem well prepared, when women are present on the governing board,” says Professor in gender equality Anette Borchorst and adds:

“The reason why men do not really choose women is that they tend to choose some that are similar to themselves, and if women therefore are discarded because men choose men, there must of course be something done.”


Women quotas as last option

Britta Thomsen, Member of the Committee for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, is an advocate of women quotas. In her opinion the quota is the only way we can improve our economy:

“We can not afford not to use the well-educated workforce we have in terms of women. Women are better educated than men. In fact, most women have a better education than men and we need to take advantage of this. Anything else would be stupid. Naturally the quotas should be seen as a last option, but if the companies do not get more women on the boards, the quota will become reality.”

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding agrees:
“For me quotas are not the goal, for me they are the instrument to reach a goal if other instruments are not enough. I would very much prefer that we do not need targeted regulatory measures but rather self-regulation.”



CLICK HERE to watch a video about women quotas

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