Coalition digs in against boardroom quota for women

Women should not be forced into boardrooms via the quota system currently being considered by EU officials, Maria Eagle has said.

The women's and equality minister used a keynote speech on women's issues this morning to continue the British government's fight against European Union bureaucrats keen to transform boardrooms on the continent.

Draft EU legislation backed by the EU's commissioner for fundamental rights, Viviane Reding, had called for company boards across Europe to have at least 40% of its seats filled by women.

At least ten of the EU's member states opposed the measures, prompting a rethink. But a revised version of the proposals is expected to push for some moves towards a quota nonetheless. Commissioners will meet today to discuss their proposals once again.

"Now more than ever, we need to remove barriers which women and men face in the workplace," Miller said.

"This can never be effectively achieved by quotas or regulation… I want to be clear that the Commission is wrong to pursue this approach."

She called on employers to voluntarily put the "right measures in place so that women can achieve their ambitions", rather than through regulation.

The Fawcett Society, a campaign group, said it was "disappointed" by the government stance.

Miller argued that recent research found that women represent 44% of all board appointments to the FTSE 100, and 36% of FTSE 250 appointments.

Her speech focused on boosting women's contribution to the UK's GDP, arguing that an interest in the women's rights agenda is a matter of "economic reality" rather than "political correctness".

She added: Now more than ever, we need to remove barriers to the workplace.

"The way to do this is not through special treatment or regulation like the European Commission's quotas idea, which patronises women and undermines the business case.

"It is about removing the barriers to achieving their goals, and so that women are supported all the way from the shop floor to the boardroom. We are making real progress in driving transparency and equality in our workplaces and will continue to do even more."