Inside Story
Can a quota system help close the gender gap?
As EU wants more seats for women in corporate boardrooms, we ask if it is equal opportunity or preferential treatment.
Last Modified: 06 Nov 2012 10:45

Women make up half the world's population, but only a small fraction get as far as the corporate boardroom.

This adds to the gender gap - the disparity in opportunities available for men and woman.

Although the gap is closing in some countries, rights groups say it is moving far too slowly; especially in business.

"Research has shown that the leadership skills that women can bring in executive and non-exective roles are significant and they can enrich the potential of a government. So it is important both for nation states and for the EU as a whole to look for ways of promoting women in boards"

- Petros Fassoulas, the chairman of the European Movement

To rectify this, the European Union (EU) now wants to force companies to reserve 40 per cent of corporate boardroom seats for women.

Several EU countries, including France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands, have introduced compulsory quotas for women in the boardroom.

But plans to impose such measures across all 27 countries in the EU are meeting with resistance.

While some argue that the move means equal opportunity, others feel it amounts to preferential treatment.

Figures for the percentage of women in the boardroom differ the world over.

Samples taken from surveys of large companies, compiled by Deloitte Global Centre for Corporate Governance, indicate that:

  • In the US, women fill just over 12 per cent of boardroom seats
  • In the UK, the amount is a little over 9 per cent
  • China is not far behind at 8.5 per cent
  • In India, the amount is less than 5 per cent
  • In Singapore, the amount is just over 7 per cent
  • In Norway, woman make up more than 35 per cent of board members, but this falls short of the 40 per cent quota imposed in 2003

"I am strongly against quotas because people don't change. You can put very strong regulations in and until you've changed the culture of an organisation, until people value what women have to bring to a board, it's not going to work"

- Jo Sawicki, board member of Isocell

And it is not just the boardroom where women are at a disadvantage.

There is often a big discrepancy over access to resources and opportunites for women in general.

This includes access to healthcare, education, political participation, and economic equality.

So is it time for women to get on board?

To answer this question, Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, is joined by guests: Petros Fassoulas, the chairman of the European Movement and a former policy adviser to the EU select committee of the House of Lords; Jo Sawicki, a non-executive member of French biotech company Isocell, and CEO of Cerescom, a company training women at the board level; and Ida Beerhalter, who owns her own medical advisory company, and works for Astia a Trust that promotes women entrepreneurs.


  • Northern Europe is the best region for women to live, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF)
  • Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden have closed the gender gap by 80 per cent
  • The Philippines is ranked 8th for equal opportunities for women, followed by Nicaragua
  • Germany has slipped to 13th place; the UK is down to 18th place; and the US has dropped five places to 22nd
  • At the bottom of the rankings are Saudi Arabia, Syria, Chad, Pakistan and Yemen
  • A WEF report says women have only 60 per cent of economic power that men enjoy
  • Several EU countries have introduced boardroom quotas, but some oppose quota to boost women's role 
  • Less than 15 per cent of board positions in EU countries are held by women


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