New fad in Europe: Forced gender equality in board rooms

Coming soon to a Democratic congress near you...

Christian Science Monitor:

Half a century after the European Union's Treaty of Rome sowed the seeds for gender equality in Europe, Ms. Lagarde's push for mandatory corporate board quotas for women - which proponents hope will trickle down and improve gender equality throughout workplaces - is gaining momentum, and dividing governments, across the continent.

Last fall, European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding pushed through a proposal for gender quotas for the board of corporations across Europe. Men, she said, continue to dominate top jobs, although women are better educated and the economy needs them. But with German Chancellor Angela Merkel vetoing the idea, whether the 27-member EU Council, the European Union's legislative body, turns the idea into law this fall remains to be seen.

Law or no law, Reding's initiative has brought the issue of gender equality to the fore of political consciousness in Europe, helping shake old fashioned views of gender roles in Europe's most conservative societies, including powerhouse Germany. Algimanta Pabedinskienė, the  Lithuanian minister of social security and labor, said the issue would top the agenda of the Lithuanian EU presidency, which started July 1.

"What we've tried to do for years, to start a political discussion on gender equality is now happening thanks to the initiative from Viviane Reding," says Jana Smiggels Kavková, president of Fórum 50%, a Prague-based nonprofit group advocating gender quotas for Czech politics.

The Czech government, like that of Germany and Britain, sees mandatory quotas as an unwelcome intrusion in free business practices. Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands also oppose the European gender quota initiative, but because they feel it overlaps with their own quota systems.

"Before it was just this talking and talking, 'we need more women,' but now we have a real concrete step, that's why there is so much resistance. Gender equality is becoming an issue," says Ms. Kavková.

Frankly, it doesn't take much in the way of brains to be a member of a board of directors, They usually rubber stamp the decisions made by the management team, basing decisions on reports by experts. No doubt they could find many qualified women to fill the boards of any corporation.

But why the coercion? The notion that forcing boards to accept a quota system based on gender will filter down and affect women in the workplace is an unproven concept and sounds more like wishful thinking than good policy.

Gender equality is indeed an important issue - much too important to be left to those who would use the heavy hand of government to try and force revolutionary change on society when evolution regarding gender equality is proceeding at a reasonable pace. Sheer numbers won't convince anyone that women can do the job. Women themselves are proving it every day and changing hearts and minds in a way that a coercive government can't even imagine.