Company Boards and Thwarted Quotas: the Glacial Pace of Change

Aileen McColgan

Women hold fewer than one in seven seats on the boards of the largest listed public companies across the European Union.[1] In Norway, where a 40% quota has been in force for some time, they account for 42% of Board positions. And in France, which introduced quotas in January 2011, the proportion of women on Boards increased from 12% to 22% in a single year.[2]

Viviane Reding, vice president of the European Commission, has been spearheading efforts to introduce quotas at EU level for women on Boards, explaining in an article in the New York Times on 10 October 2012 that “I tried first with persuasion… Voluntary measures have not achieved any progress, and if we continue at that pace we will need 40 or 50 years.”[3]

It was being reported in early September 2012 that the Commission was to propose mandatory quotas of 40% women in non executive director positions by 2018 in publicly owned companies, 2020 in private companies employing at least 250 people or with a revenue of €50 million.[4] Enforcement would be by fines and/or exclusion from public contract. Reding was quoted in the New York Times stating that quotas would not be enforced in the absence of suitably qualified women but that a list of over 7,000 ‘board-ready’ women had been drawn up by European business schools and others. Britain, in which women currently account for a record 16% (just under one in six) of FTSE 100 boards,[5] and 2.5% of FTSE 100 chief executive positions, was reported to be leading the opposition. Continue reading

Directive 2000/78, Age discrimination and the Supreme Court

Prof. Aileen McColgan

On 25 April 2012 the Supreme Court handed down two major judgments on age discrimination: Homer v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police [2012] UKSC 15 and Seldon v Clarkson Wright and Jakes [2012] UKSC 16. In both cases Lady Hale delivered the leading judgment with which the other Supreme Court Justices all agreed. As might have been expected in the circumstances, the decisions shine the light of principle on this contested and difficult area of law.

Discrimination on grounds of age, alone of all the characteristics now protected by the Equality Act 2010, is capable of discrimination whether the discrimination is direct or indirect. Discrimination relating to the other protected characteristics (broadly sex, race, disability, sexual orientation and religion/belief) is subject to a general justification defence only where it takes the indirect form. In this, the Equality Act and its predecessor provisions (specifically the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006, under which the Seldon and Homer cases were brought) mirror the provisions of Council Directives 2000/43 and (of direct relevance here) 2000/78.

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