The EU warned Monday it is ready to legislate to get more women into boardrooms, after just 24 out of the European Union's estimated 20 million businesses signed up to a voluntary initiative.
"Personally, I am not a great fan of quotas. However, I like the results they bring," European Union justice commissioner Viviane Reding said in launching a 10-week public consultation, after which she says she will consider EU "legislative measures".
Reding said it is "high time that Europe breaks the glass ceiling that continues to bar female talent from getting to the top in Europe's listed companies".
Reding called on companies one year ago to institute "credible self-regulatory measures", with just one in seven board members in the EU's top firms a woman (13.7 percent).
New OECD findings showed Monday that in 2009, the most recent year comparable data was available, women occupied only one in ten board seats in companies listed in OECD countries, which includes the EU's top economies.
Reding asked companies to sign a pledge "to raise female representation on their boards to 30 percent by 2015 and 40 percent by 2020", but was clearly shocked by pitiful feedback.
The European Commission, the EU's civil service, reckons it would take more than 40 years to get at least 40 percent of both sexes onto boardrooms.
"Self-regulation so far has not brought about satisfactory results," she said, citing business surveys conducted by McKinsey and Ernst & Young as proof that "the lack of women in top jobs in the business world harms Europe's competitiveness and hampers economic growth".
The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said that there was no conclusive evidence that a company's performance was improved by having more women on the board.
But "it is increasingly recognised that greater gender diversity in firms would increase the talent pool for top executives," it said.
Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain have adopted legislation that introduces gender quotas for company boards -- but France alone accounts for half of an increase over the past year, the Commission said.
Women make up 27 percent of boards in the largest Finnish companies, but only three percent of those in Malta, national breakdowns showed.
At 40 percent, Norway has the highest presence of women on company boards within the OECD as a result of a mandatory quota introduced in 2006.
Norway is not a member of the EU, but is linked to the bloc via a free trade deal and implements similar legislation in social and business areas.
(European Union justice commissioner Viviane Reding gives a press conference at the EU Headquarters in Brussels. The EU has warned companies across Europe it is ready to legislate to get more women into boardrooms, after just 24 out of the European Union's estimated 20 million businesses signed up to a Brussels-sponsored voluntary initiative. AFP Photo/Georges Gobet)