Women on boards: MEPs win 2026 date for mandatory female directors for listed companies

MEPs and EU governments have finally agreed on a new law that will increase the presence of women on the boards of directors of listed private companies

MEPs Lara Wolters and Evelyn Regner
MEPs Lara Wolters and Evelyn Regner

MEPs and EU governments have finally agreed on a new law that will increase the presence of women on the boards of directors of listed private companies.

The deal on gender parity on boards of publicly listed companies in the EU was clinched after a decade of being blocked in the Council.

“This is a matter of equality. We must make use of all talent regardless of gender and show that the vision of women matters to us,” Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli said during a press conference this morning discussing the deal.

“We know that when more women are added to boards, member states have advanced, whereas where there is no legislation, they are lagging. This is why legislation is needed to target member states where there are large discrepancies,” Dalli said.   

“This has been a 10-year journey and shows the need for patience and persistence to reach results such as today. Currently, only 30.6% of non-executive board members on average across Europe are women, and only 8.5% of women are on executive boards,” said Lead EP negotiator Evelyn Regner.

Regner added that there has only been a 0.6% increase of women on boards since 2003. “What we have found is that when measures are put into place, there is success. We have a clear target, and we believe it has real teeth.”

Pressed by the media on what the petalites would be for companies that do not reach the target, Regner said it was up to the member state to decide what petalites would be put into place.

The so-called “Women on Boards” Directive aims to introduce transparent recruitment procedures in companies so that at least 40% of non-executive director posts or 33% of all director posts are occupied by the under-represented sex.

The European Commission first presented its proposal in 2012 and the European Parliament adopted its negotiation position back in 2013. The file was blocked in the Council for almost a decade, until Employment and Social Affairs ministers finally agreed on a position last March. Today, only 30.6% of board members in the EU’s largest publicly listed companies are women, with significant differences among member states, from 45.3% in France to 8.5% in Cyprus.

Companies will have to comply with this target by 30 June 2026, a position insisted upon by the European Parliament, compared to the Council’s proposal of 31 December 2027.

In cases where candidates are equally qualified for a post, priority should go to the candidate of the under-represented sex.

MEPs insisted that merit must remain the key criterion in selection procedures, which should be transparent, as part of the agreement.

Listed companies will be required to provide information to the competent authorities once a year about the gender representation on their boards and, if the objectives have not been met, how they plan to attain them. This information would be published on the company’s website in an easily accessible manner.

SMEs with fewer than 250 employees are excluded from the scope of the directive.

The proposal includes effective, dissuasive and proportionate penalties for companies that fail to comply with open and transparent appointment procedures: apart from fines, companies could have their selection of board directors annulled by a judicial body if they breach the Directive.

“Parliament has been asking for a Directive for more women on boards for over a decade. The Council was finally ready to come to the table 10 years after the Commission made its proposal,” S&D rapporteur Evelyn Regner said.

“It was high time to have binding measures. More women on boards make companies more resilient, more innovative and will help to change top-down structures in the workplace. One of the main achievements is transparency. Selection processes have to be based on clear, predetermined criteria and with this agreement, only the best candidates will be selected, thereby improving the overall quality of boards.”

Co-rapporteur Lara Wolters (S&D) added: “All data show that gender equality at the top of companies is not achieved by sheer luck. We also know that more diversity in boardrooms contributes to better decision-making and results. This quota can be a push in the right direction for more equality and diversity in companies.”

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