EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has been forced to delay a decision on whether to impose a Europe-wide quota for women on boards, after several of her counterparts threatened to block the proposal.

Reding, who has been championing a scheme to force all publicly traded companies to have 40 percent of their board seats filled by women by 2020 or face fines, has been asked to present a watered-down version of the proposal, according to a report in the Financial Times.

The new revised plan will be presented on 14 November, an EU official has confirmed.

The news will resonate powerfully in the IT industry, where women are sorely under-represented in general, let alone at board level.

Speaking to Techworld at the everywoman in Technology Leadership Academy last week, Sheila Flavell, COO at IT services provider FDM, said that a lot of companies champion women in IT, but women are still discriminated against more often than not.

“They don't need to be convinced to do it; the question is how do we do it?” she said. “The only way we're going to encourage more women into the industry is to target them and start addressing some of the issues as to why they're not coming into the industry.”

Flavell said that, in order for women to be able to survive and thrive in today's workplace, there has to be flexibility. In a way, the IT industry is positioned better then any other to enable flexible working, due to the array of technological solutions at its fingertips.

“We have to embrace the change that's required in the industry, and in order to bring more women in we've got to change the way we behave towards them,” she said. “Nowadays with video conferencing and with remote working and the cloud you can work from home.”

Flavell said companies that allow employees to work part-time or from home several times a week end up getting “paid back in buckets”.

“Women can be very committed. Especially women that have children think they have to prove themselves as being committed staff members,” she said.

“What I've found personally is that women who ask to work part-time three or four days a week end up doing five days work in four.”

On the issue of setting quotas for women at board level, however, Flavell believes that companies need to tread carefully.

“If you set targets to ensure that you have the right quotas you end up with tokenism – so you've got the token woman on the mangement leadership team and the token woman on the board, rather then them being there through merit,” she said.

IT companies need to focus first on encouraging women to enter the industry, and making the workplace environment attractive to them. Only then will more women start breaking through the glass ceiling and reaching board level on merit.

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