We have just had a wonderful event at EWOB recently: A fireside chat with EWOB CEO Kristen Anderson & Chair Hedwige Nuyens. The main topic of the chat was the official passing of the EU Women on Boards Directive, and what it means for women in leadership positions who are looking for their first or next board roles. With 109 attendees and hundreds of messages in chat, the lively event answered many questions that have long been on everyone’s minds!
We have therefore decided to put together an FAQ on the women on boards Directive based on this event, combining Hedwige & Kristen’s answers. Hopefully you will find that it answers your questions about the Directive, and if not, please make sure to contact us directly! It is an integral part of our mission of women empowerment through sharing knowledge.
What is the EU Directive for women on boards about, and what was EWOB’s role in its approval?
EWOB was precisely created to work on this Directive more than 10 years ago. There was a proposal back then in the Parliament saying at least 40% women on boards was a necessity. Then, it was blocked. The backlash at this decision was what inspired the foundation of European Women on Boards.
The Directive applies to 27 EU countries (all European countries except non-EU ones) and now, you will need to have 40% women in every single board that is stock listed in these countries: So, it’s a major goal & a major achievement. European Women on Boards will help, again, to facilitate this change and transition period, most importantly by using every single instrument and service that we provide to have women leaders, ready and eager to take up these positions, on boards. This change has to be applied to all stock listed companies by mid 2026.
What is European Women on Boards doing to help place ready and eager women leaders to the board positions that will open up until 2026?
EWOB is focused on helping women who are close to or in the C-suite and actively looking for a board position. We provide networking and individual membership opportunities, as well as programs tailored for women such as a C-Level Program, Board Readiness Program, and Cross-Border Mentoring Program.
EWOB has trained over 200 women around Europe and currently has more than 600 men and women members. The goal of the organisation is to remove barriers for women taking on more decision-making roles and to connect like-minded senior level leaders who want to achieve more and move ahead in their careers.
What are the biggest opportunities & challenges at implementing the Women on Boards Directive now that it has been approved after more than 10 years?
The statistics show that many countries in the EU are below 40% representation of women on boards, so the biggest opportunity is that we now have a way of regulating this inequality and turning into opportunity for women leaders who are ready for the board.
For a change and movement across Europe, it is imperative to get as many stakeholders as possible involved and informed. The new Directive also includes stricter rules for transparency and advertising for board positions. There may be challenges for companies that haven’t previously looked for women candidates for their boards, but the regulation is necessary and fits with the new corporate governance rules for more diversity and expertise on boards.
How does European Women on Boards’ talent pool serve this purpose, and how is this linked with executive search?
The most exciting part about what we do at EWOB is how we can connect our group of talented women with board positions or C-suite positions. In the past, up to 85% of board positions were filled via networks, not always transparently.
We’re working on how we can connect our talent pool of women with the executive recruiters looking for board positions and C-suite positions, and provide transparency while respecting privacy and GDPR. Our goal is to remove the argument that there are not enough talented women leaders to take on these roles. We also want to be advocates for other women and men, helping them find roles and pushing them to take on positions they are ready for through training and networking.
Streamlining this process is one of our utmost priorities at EWOB, and currently we are at work putting new systems in place that will help us match the talented women in our community with relevant board & C-level roles.
How will the new directive impact investors and funds who usually put unrealistic pressure on listed companies, thus making the leadership environment toxic for women? (asked by Cristina Muntean)
When it comes to choosing where to work, whether you’re an employee or a board member, it’s crucial to align yourself with a company whose values and strategy align with your own.
Taking on a position if there is a fundamental mismatch in values is not recommended. However, if you want to make a change within a company, it’s important to find others who share your perspective and to work together to create common ground. Additionally, it’s important to evaluate your own skills and strengths and present yourself in a way that will attract the right board position that aligns with your interests and values.
Are women not more tending to go on non-paying board positions than men? Should we not change that? (asked by Marleen Thorré)
Let’s first address the question of how women can move from executive positions to board positions. It is not a common or easy transition to make and it usually does not happen immediately. I suggest that it can be useful for women to start by adding a board position or an advisory board or committee role within their area of expertise to gain experience and see if it’s something they enjoy and want to pursue further. It is crucial to have a strategy and a plan in place, such as identifying the right board and tailoring your bio to match the requirements of that board.
Additionally, we expect the requirements for publicly listed companies to spill over to non-listed SME companies and one goal is to extend the focus to executive level positions to fill the pipeline before board level positions. All of this means that you have to start somewhere: Be it a non-paying board position or an NGO board, getting that first role opens a lot of doors. Our organization offers different training programs depending on where women are in their careers and we work hard to connect recruiters with our talent pool.
Do you expect this Directive to apply to non-for-profit companies and associations in the future? (asked by Nadine Stroobant)
As for the Directive applying to not-for-profit companies and associations in the future, it could be a possibility. However, for non-profit organizations, there may be other ways to achieve diversity and inclusion. Typically, these organizations are more value-driven. (Personally speaking) If we were to advocate for something, I would focus on extending the directive to executive committees within corporates. This could potentially lead to a trickle-down effect. If more diverse and inclusive boards are present, it could attract talent, and smaller organizations and non-profit SMEs may begin to focus on diversity in their own boards as a way to retain and attract good talent.
Is there any interest or focus on assessing and addressing women’s participation at board level at industry level? There are industries that lag behind and perhaps a particular focus on those will have a significant impact. (asked by Irina Carbunaru)
As per the Gender Diversity Index report conducted by EWOB, we found that the biggest differences in diversity come from the country, not the industry. However, there are some industries that are more challenging in terms of diversity, particularly STEM related ones. However, even in STEM industries, a diverse board with expertise in finance, HR, marketing and sustainability is key in addressing this issue.