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Should female directors be appointed on the basis of quotas or merit? This question, part of a wider debate on equality and rights, simply refuses to go away. Whilst survey after survey has indicated the dramatic under-representation of women in the boardroom in the UK, the argument for positive discrimination remains controversial. It has been highlighted in recent weeks after attempts by the European Commission to introduce draft legislation requiring a 40% quota of female board members on the boards of member states companies. These plans have had to be postponed in the face of strong opposition from some member states, notably the UK.
According to a report issued by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, in 2010 female directors in the UK made up only 12.5% of the membership of UK boards and the rate of change is such that it is currently projected to take over 70 years to achieve parity with male board membership. Of the FTSE 100, only two companies: Burberry and Imperial Tobacco have female CEOs. The proportion of female board directors across the EU is broadly similar. However, a number of EU states including Spain and France already have legislation on the statute book due to come into effect within the next five years which will oblige firms to allocate 40% of their board positions to female members of staff. Non EU members Norway and Iceland have had such a provision since 2006.
In the UK, the appointment of female directors has proved to be a remarkably intractable issue. In the EU more progress appears to be on the horizon but Europe wide legislation is still a long way off. The so-called glass ceiling appears to be more difficult to break than expected.
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