That enthusiastic driver of state-sponsored feminism, the European Commission, isn’t giving up on the issue of women in the boardroom. Behind a new development there’s undoubtedly the brooding malevolent presence of EC Commissioner Viviane Reding. It really is about time we awarded the odious woman – about whom we’ve written at length, and with whom we’ve had an exchange of letters, see earlier post – a ‘Harpy’ award.
My thanks to Anastasia for bringing to our attention a piece in the 30 December edition of the Sunday Times :
PM faces fresh row over women bosses
The government is facing a fresh clash with Eurosceptic backbenchers over a move by Brussels to force an increase in the number of women on company boards.
On January 7, just days before David Cameron’s expected speech on Britain’s future relations with Brussels, parliament is due to debate a directive requiring big companies to introduce a target for 40% of non-executive directors to be women by 2020.
Although Brussels, partly under British pressure, has stepped back from its intention to impose a fixed quota rather than a target, Britain and other countries will be required to introduce rules to push companies to increase their number of female appointments.
This would include allowing positive discrimination in the choice of board members and introducing possible court orders against companies that fail to increase their female membership.
Leading Eurosceptics have pledged to speak out in the debate against what the see as unacceptable interference by Brussels. Such a move would introduce fresh tension only days before Cameron announces his plans on how Britain will redraw its relationship with Europe.
Dominic Raab, Conservative MP for Esher and Walton, said: ‘This ivory tower EU legislation is the worst of all worlds. It is economically damaging, anti-meritocratic and won’t solve the problem. It is another politically correct obsession of the Brussels elite which is irrelevant to the vast majority of working women. If we want to do something in this country to help working women and families, we should be focused on the exorbitant cost of childcare not boardroom quotas.’
James Clappison, a member of parliament’s European scrutiny committee, said that ‘whatever the merits of more women in the boardroom, it is no business of the EU to be setting targets in this area.’
Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat minister for women and equality, recently warned parliament that, although she welcomed the dropping of the quota proposal, the ‘directive effectively amounts to the same thing, quotas, in essence’.
The European plan to introduce mandatory targets will apply to large stockmarket listed companies, with an estimated 950 firms affected in the UK. The move has partly been sparked by the failure of purely voluntary measures across Britain and Europe to elicit change.
A poll earlier this month found that little more than half of big companies were confident they would meet the British government’s voluntary target for 25% of directors in the top 200 companies to be women by 2015.
Last week, Frances O’Grady, the first female general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, spoke out in favour of mandatory targets.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: ‘The UK welcomes the commission’s decision not to impose mandatory quotas for women on boards. We remain fully committed to increasing women’s representation in UK boardrooms.’
This is the first mention we’ve seen of a ‘voluntary’ target – which is, of course, anything but voluntary – applying to the top 200 companies. Up to now it’s been only the FTSE100. And so this cancer keeps growing. The biggest threat to UK plc comes not from the EU, but from the British government. It doesn’t challenge our evidence which clearly shows that increasing women’s representation in boardrooms leads to declines in corporate performance, but follows the policy direction regardless. The government is clearly willing to send UK plc down the toilet rather than risk the Fawcett Society issuing a critical press release on the matter. Remind me again, is this country being governed by a Conservative-led coalition? Incredible.