LONDON — Women must make up at least 40% of non-executive board members at large companies in the European Union from mid-2026 under a law approved on Tuesday.
The ‘Women on Boards’ law, given the green light by the European Parliament after it was first proposed a decade ago, also requires that at least a third of all company directors are women.
Where two candidates for a post are equally qualified, priority must go to the under-represented sex, the rules say. Penalties for non-compliance can be a fine or annulment of the contested director’s appointment.
EU states have already approved the new law, and companies with fewer than 250 staff will be exempt.
“After ten years since its proposal by the European Commission, we will now have an EU law to break the glass ceiling of listed companies boards,” said Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, which proposed the new rules.
“There are plenty of women qualified for top jobs and with our new European law, we will make sure that they have a real chance to get them.”
The EU said action was necessary because women account for fewer than one in 10 board chairs and chief executive positions, and less than a third of board members at large listed companies are women.
Listed companies will have to report annually on gender representation on their boards. If they fall short of the targets, they will have to explain how they plan to meet them.
“We are removing one of the main hurdles for women to get the ‘top jobs’: informal male networks,” said Evelyn Regner, an Austrian center-left lawmaker who steered the new rules through parliament.
“From now on, competence will count more in a selection procedure than ever before, as will transparency,” Regner said. (Reporting by Huw Jones Editing by Bernadette Baum)