FLJS Policy Briefs propose new approaches to EC policy on gender equality

17 June 2014

New proposals to tackle gender imbalances in the workplace have been put forward by two leading gender equality experts in policy briefs published by the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society today. The recommendations offer alternatives to the blanket 40% quota for female directors of publicly listed companies that the European Commission is considering imposing across the EU.
 
In the policy briefs, leading authorities on gender equality Jude Browne and Julie C. Suk analyse the draft Directive of the European Commission and propose alternative measures that broaden the benefits of such gender-based policies.
 
Jude Browne, Director of the University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies, proposes an alternative to EU policy on gender quotas that would provide a “more effective and proportionate response” to segregation patterns in the workplace than blanket quotas aimed only at boards.
 
In the policy brief, entitled Corporate Boards, Quotas for Women, and Political Theory, she argues that, rather than focusing on improving the representation of women at board level, a broader policy should be implemented, one that “would ensure that people who are equipped with the relevant skills and experience are able to move up and across institutional structures irrespective of characteristics such as race or sex.”
 
In order to do so, she develops a mechanism to identify all situations in which a disproportionate number of women occupy positions at a certain level of an organisation and yet do not progress up the organization as would be expected — where there is, in other words, a ‘thwarted critical mass’. Coined the Critical Mass Marker approach, this new model overcomes the criticisms currently levelled at EC policy that it is unmeritocratic and undermines the achievements of those women who have risen to senior positions prior to the quota system.
 
Instead, the Critical Mass Marker approach provides a clear objective for equality in which the burden of proof lies with the employing institution, which is legally responsible to ensure that the quota is met.
 
Julie C. Suk, Professor of Law at the Cardozo School of Law, New York, traces the evolution of the gender quota policy and argues that it serves to symbolically legitimize the “largely undemocratic institutions of the European Union”.
 
She finds that, contrary to the predominant rhetoric of the European Commission that improving gender balance in corporate leadership would be good for business, “corporate board quotas cannot be strongly defended on the economic arguments alone".
 
The policy brief concludes that, “in real terms, only a small number of women will benefit from increased employment opportunities because of this legislation, and that, “rather than promoting women’s employment directly, the Directive enacts a symbolically significant step towards democratizing large private institutions that interact with the public, and largely undemocratic institutions of the European Union.”
 

Findings and recommendations:

  • Contrary to the predominant rhetoric of the European Commission, corporate board quotas cannot be strongly defended on economic grounds alone.
  • The changes proposed by the European Parliament to the draft Directive links gender under-representation in decision-making to the ‘democratic deficit’ of European institutions.
  • In real terms, only a small number of women will benefit from increased employment opportunities because of this legislation.
  • Rather than promoting women’s employment directly, the Directive enacts a symbolically significant step towards democratizing the institutions of the European Union.
  • A Critical Mass Marker approach could be a much more effective and proportionate response to each institution’s or collection of institutions’ segregation patterns than blanket quotas aimed only at boards.

 
The policy briefs originated from a workshop held at Wolfson College in March this year, at which academic experts and EC advisors discussed the draft Directive and identified areas for reform. Podcasts of the debate are available from the links on the right, and the policy briefs can be downloaded from the links below.
 
Corporate Boards, Quotas for Women, and Political Theory
Jude Browne, Director of the University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies
 
Democratic Deficits and Gender Quotas
Julie C. Suk, Professor of Law at the Cardozo School of Law, New York