It took nearly ten years, but EU member states agreed last week on a European quota for women in top companies. Within five years at the latest, at least 40 percent of supervisory boards should be women, according to member states. A 33 percent quota is also allowed, but then a third of the combined management and supervisory boards must be made up of women. That sounds like a big step, but does this quota of women make sense? And where is Holland?
“The world is not made for women in every way,” says Lara Wolters (PvdA) MEP. She is the negotiator of the proposal on behalf of parliament and now she has to agree with the member states exactly what it will look like. “For example: I have to ask that these negotiations not be scheduled at night, because then it is the bathroom and bedtime for my son. Men care less about that.”
The European Parliament already agreed in 2013
Already in 2013, the European Parliament voted in favor of a quota for women, but the member states did not agree on the exact content. The Netherlands and Germany, among others, were obstructive. They considered that this policy should be regulated at the national level. Wolters points out that member states now accept it and then invoke an exception, because they already have national legislation.
In the Netherlands, for example, a women’s quota for the business community was established earlier this year. According to Wolters, that is not enough. After all, only a one-third quota on the supervisory board applies here. “You want to achieve maximum diversity.”
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However, the Netherlands has been reluctant to implement a policy of equality between men and women for years, says Ody Neisingh, an adviser to the organization Women Inc. She explains this by the ‘ideology of motherhood’, which is very present in the Netherlands. “A woman is better at taking care of children, or so it is believed,” she says. “A woman spends on average 1.5 times more time on unpaid care than a man.” According to Neisingh, the lack of women at the top is also due to the fact that Dutch women tend to work part-time to balance work and care. Research from Women Inc. shows that a third of parents consider child care too expensive.
“We always have the impression that we are doing well and we are very emancipated, but if you look at the figures, it is very disappointing,” he says. “That’s unwarranted self-assurance.” In 2020, only 14 percent of the CEOs of the 100 largest publicly traded companies were women. There are also companies that do not have women on the board or supervisory board.
We always have the impression that we are very emancipated, but that is very disappointing.
Until Tuesday, this was also the case for Sligro Food Group NV, known primarily as a catering wholesaler. “Two female commissioners, Angelique de Vries-Schipperijn and Inge Plochaet, will be appointed on Wednesday,” spokesman Wilco Jansen said. “We’re looking at this very specifically, because we want to meet the quota.” Both board members are men. “We are not going to replace them just because they are men. That would be the world upside down.”
Although the European quota for women is part of a positive move towards greater equality, this measure alone is not enough, warns Neisingh. “We see it more as a temporary means of correction to eliminate inequality and create role models for other important women,” she says. “That is why another part of the Dutch law is interesting, namely the target figure scheme.” This arrangement isn’t just about the top, but the bottom layers as well. And: large companies must develop an action plan. The downside of this ‘target figure’ is that it is not binding, says Neisingh.
There’s still a non-commitment threat
The European quota also threatens to become too elusive if countries continue to gobble up binding agreements, Wolters observes. For example, member states want the opportunity to impose sanctions themselves if companies do not comply with agreements. The 2013 plan, instead, proposed generally applicable sanctions, such as fines, cancellation of invalid appointments and exclusion from European grants. It is also against countries that invoke an exceptional position. “I don’t want it to become a toothless proposal, because that way each member state creates carte blanche for itself.”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on March 23, 2022
A version of this article also appeared on NRC on the morning of March 23, 2022.