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Quotas can Turbocharge Progress on Gender Balance in Politics and Business

On 18 May 2021, the EIGE (European Institute for Gender Equality) has published its latest data on women and men in decision-making, covering the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, as well as the seven countries that receive support from the EU’s Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey (IPA beneficiaries).

Key findings in politics

National parliaments: Gender balance by 2032?

  • In November 2020, women made up 32.7 % of national parliaments in the EU. This covers a wide spectrum, from 49.6 % in Sweden to 12.6 % in Hungary.

  • Five countries have gender-balanced parliaments, with at least 40 % of seats held by women: Belgium, Spain, France, Finland and Sweden.

  • Women’s representation in national parliaments is improving at a steady pace. The current proportion has gone up by 0.6 percentage points (pp) over the course of a year, and by 10.2 pp since 2004.

  • If women’s representation in national parliaments continues to improve at the current rate, we will have gender balance by 2032.

Proportion of women members of parliament grows three times faster in countries with quotas

  • 11 Member States have legislative gender quotas for parliamentary elections. These countries have increased the share of women in their parliaments almost three times faster than countries without quotas.

  • The proportion of women in parliaments increased more quickly in Ireland, Spain, Luxembourg, Poland and Slovenia after they adopted quotas. However, the Greek parliament saw little change in the share of women after raising their existing quota in 2019.

Big variations in women’s political representation among IPA beneficiaries

  • In May 2020, women made up 27 % of parliamentarians in the IPA beneficiaries. North Macedonia is the only IPA country with a gender-balanced parliament, though Serbia is close with 37 % women. In Turkey, women hold just 17 % of parliamentary seats.

Key findings in business

Share of women on boards at all-time high and increasing quickly

  • In October 2020, the share of women on EU company boards in the largest listed companies reached 29.5 %. This is an all-time high and an increase of 0.8 pp in just six months.

  • In France, more than 45 % of company board members are women. Belgium, Italy and Sweden all have around 38 % women, while women account for at least one third of board members in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Finland.

  • However, less than a quarter (23 %) of the EU’s largest companies have gender-balanced boards. In Bulgaria, Estonia and Hungary, more than half of companies do not have any women on their boards.

Quotas boost the share of women on boards and speed up progress….

  • EIGE’s data takes into consideration legislative quotas on the minimum share of women and men on boards in Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Portugal. Greece and the Netherlands also have quotas, but they have been adopted too recently to feature in the data.

  • In the six quota countries considered in this analysis, the average share of women on boards is 37.6 %. In countries without quotas, the share of women on boards is 24.3 %.

  • In the six quota countries, the share of women on boards increased by an average of 0.9 pp each year before the quota was introduced. This jumped to an average increase of 3.0 pp per year after the quota was introduced. Progress in countries without legally binding quotas stagnates at just 0.7 pp per year.

…but share of women board chairs and CEOs still tiny

  • Fewer than 1 in 10 board chairs or CEOs is a woman. This is despite the fact that the number of women board chairs has doubled since 2012 (from 20 of 558 companies in October 2012, to 39 of 548 companies in October 2020), while the number of women CEOs has tripled (from 12 to 41).

Share of women on boards lower in IPA beneficiaries than in EU

  • In April 2020, women made up 18 % of board members in the largest listed companies in five of the IPA beneficiaries (there is no data for Albania and Kosovo). The proportion of women was similar across the IPA beneficiaries, ranging from 19% in Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina to 15% in Serbia.

The EU Gender Equality Strategy delivers on the von der Leyen Commission’s commitment to achieving a Union of Equality. The Strategy presents policy objectives and actions to make significant progress by 2025 towards a gender-equal Europe. As ECOPNET (European Cooperation and Partnership Network) we reaffirm our commitment to gender equality and promote these rights across the world.


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