Following publication of a report showing that it will take about 40 years to achieve gender parity on European company boards, the European Commission last week announced a public consultation on the introduction of quotas.

With women making up just one in seven board members at Europe’s top firms, the Commission said that it was time to review the options open to the European Union (EU) in order to increase the number of women in senior positions.

The report, “Women in economic decision-making in the EU”, published last week found that in January 2012 only 3.2 per cent of company chairs were women, compared to 3.4 per cent in 2010.

It also found big differences between the 27 EU member states. For instance, in Finland and Latvia, women made up more than a quarter of the members of company boards (27 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively), but in Malta only three out of 100 board members were female. In Cyprus only four out of 100 were women.

A year ago, Commission vice-president Viviane Reding, challenged publicly-listed companies in Europe to voluntarily increase the number of women in their boardrooms by signing the 'Women on the Board Pledge for Europe'.

The pledge asked companies to commit themselves to increase the representation of women to 30 per cent by 2015 and 40 per cent by 2020. However, during the past 12 months, only 24 companies across Europe had taken up the challenge.

The findings are underpinned by data published to coincide with International Women’s Day last week by business consultancy Mercer. This found that women executives in some countries earn up to 22 per cent less in base salary than their male peers in similar roles and much less if other cash elements like bonuses are included.

Click the link to download the (PDF 384KB) - Women in economic decision-making in the EU report

To access the public consultation (which ends on 28 May), visit the European Commission website