The Czech government remains opposed to EU efforts to impose gender quotas for the boards of state-owned and listed companies across the EU. A vote in the cabinet on Monday went against proposed draft legislation which would ensure that by 2020 four out of every ten non-executive directorships of listed companies are filled by women.
The proposal to speed up the implementation of gender equality by imposing a 40 percent quota for women on the boards of state-owned companies has not fallen on fertile ground in the Czech Republic. The draft legislation proposed by the former EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding and subsequently approved by the European Parliament was rejected by the former centre-right government and the Czech Parliament. Hopes that the country’s stance might change with the arrival of a new centre-left administration were dashed on Monday, when the Social Democrats of the ruling coalition alone raised their hands in favour of supporting the bill. The ANO party and the Christian Democrats remain opposed – not to gender equality - but to quotas as an instrument in bringing it about.
The proposal was rejected despite the fact that the new EU Commissioner for Justice and Equal Opportunities Věra Jourová of the said ANO party recommended that the Czech government support the measure. It should be noted that Ms. Jourová herself was originally against the idea of quotas and only embraced it when preparing to defend the portfolio in the European Parliament.
The vote in the Czech cabinet comes as something of a surprise since both the Minister for Labour and Social Affairs Michaela Marksová Tominová and the Minister for Human Rights Jiří Dienstbier had in the past few days indicated that the government would very likely back the proposed measure.
Ms. Tominová said shortly after the vote that she was surprised and disappointed by the outcome especially since the centre-left cabinet had pledged in its policy programme to lay great emphasis on supporting the principle of gender equality on a practical level and seeing more women in executive posts. The minister for human rights, Jiří Dienstier, said support for the measure seemed logical in view of the fact that the country could not afford to use only half the potential afforded by the society.
Critics of the proposed measure maintain that reserving a given number of seats on company boards for women is an insult to their intelligence and qualifications and claim that in certain areas of business where there is traditionally a lower interests from female candidates the move might even hurt the companies in question. On the other hand, women’s rights activists argue that quotas would merely speed up a process that, left to its natural course, would take another one hundred years.
The EC proposal to make company boards two-fifths female by 2020 would apply to about 5,000 listed companies in the EU by 2020 and state-owned companies by 2018, the commission said last year. They exclude companies with less than 250 employees or global sales below 50 million euros ($67.6 million).