Legislative proposals aimed at narrowing the gender pay gap in EU member states have been published by EU commissioner for justice and gender equality, Vĕra Jourová.
Jourová is also calling for companies with non-executive boards made up of more than 60% men to be required to “prioritise” women candidates of “equal merit”.
The number of women on the boards of the biggest listed EU companies rose from 10% in 2005 to 22% in 2015, but progress in this area is still considered slow.
Positive discrimination on recruitment and promotion where there is a material gender imbalance is already allowed—but not mandatory—in the UK, but is rarely used, said Squire Patton Boggs solicitor, Imogen West.
“This is because of the difficulty in determining what constitutes ‘equal merit’, especially at board level,” she said, “and because the cost of failing to show that to be the case is a decision which is blatantly and unarguably discriminatory against the man.”
West added: “We will need to see what is meant in this context by ‘prioritise’, but it is hard to see how it will not be vulnerable to the same sort of practical and legal problems the UK rules have already experienced.”
In any case, Jourová’s plans will face an uphill struggle, given that previous attempts to introduce such targets for women on boards have been blocked by the likes of Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden amid fears of handing Brussels too much power over domestic affairs.
To improve diversity and pay equality in the EU workplace, Jourová has also suggested putting forward legislation to force listed companies to publish gender-specific statistics on pay—another measure recently mooted by the UK.