Geopolitics

Quotas For Women On Corporate Boards: Why Not?

Quotas For Women On Corporate Boards: Why Not?

Two prominent European female politicians make the case for imposing a quota system to ensure more women make it into top management positions.

(world economic forum)

By Viviane Reding and Françoise Grossetête

It is time to shatter the "glass ceiling," once and for all. Enabling women to realize their full professional potential is not only a question of equality, it is also a matter of economic necessity. The current reality is, alas, discouraging: only one member in ten of company boards of directors in the European Union is a woman, and only three percent of CEOs are female.

In Europe, progress has so far been extremely slow: the share of women on boards has grown by only half a percentage point per year over the last seven years. At this rate, it will take another fifty years to achieve boardroom parity between men and women!

Equality between women and men is one of Europe's founding principles. Since 1957, the principle of equal pay for equal work has been included in the Treaty of Rome. Several European countries have already paved the way for a quota system: In 2003, Norway was the first country to establish a 40 percent quota of women on boards, followed by Spain in 2007 and Iceland, which adopted gender quotas last year. In January, France, the cradle of equality, adopted a law stipulating that by 2017, women must represent 40 percent of board members on the largest publicly traded companies. In Germany, the political class is debating whether to impose such a change. Austria also plans to take action.

Quotas are of course controversial. They amount to using strong-arm tactics to break the "glass ceiling," but their effectiveness is undeniable: in Norway, the share of women on corporate supervisory boards increased from 25 percent in 2004 to 42 percent in 2009; in Spain, the participation of women on boards has risen from 4 percent in 2006 to 10 percent in 2010. If quotas can help us make things happen, they should remain as a transitional measure, to be applied as a last resort.

We will proceed in two stages. Firstly, it will be up to the companies themselves to offer solutions. In the coming months, the European Commission and several national governments will meet with CEOs from the largest publicly traded European companies to hear their proposals. Self-regulation can effectively help increase the presence of women at the highest levels of decision-making, but it must be monitored very closely. In the absence of convincing progress, the second step would be clear: Europe will impose legally binding quotas. The ball is now in the camp of the business world.

The need to strengthen the presence of women on company boards has never been greater. According to a study by management consultants McKinsey, the operating income of companies with the most women on their boards is 56 percent higher than that of businesses with only men in high management. Boards in which women outnumber men are better at auditing, monitoring and controlling risks than boards composed exclusively of men. Beyond this, women take 80 percent of household purchasing decisions - and that's not just which bread or washing powder to buy. Ask around you who chose the last computer!

We want Europe to put its foot on the accelerator with regards to the representation of women on company boards. Let's set ourselves ambitious goals! By 2015, boards should be 30 percent female, and by 2020, 40 percent. It would of course be preferable if the European business world could reach these goals on its own initiative. But if it cannot, we are ready, if necessary, to adopt binding rules from 2012.

We must act now. At a time when we are exposed to a risk of slowing economic growth and rising unemployment in the wake of the public debt crisis, we cannot ignore the potential of half the population. Some companies have already realized that parity is good for business; others, however, have been slower to react. The winds of change are blowing hard and corporate decision makers must choose: either to ensure that the "glass ceiling" is smashed by itself or with outside intervention to ensure the first crack.

Viviane Reding is vice president of the European Commission and European Commissioner for Justice. Ms. Françoise Grossetête is a European Parliament member from France.

Read the original article in French

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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