Police force lead the way in share of women executives

Legislation has come into force which requires companies in the Netherlands to meet targets for filling executive positions with women. The legislation, which was brought in on 1 January 2013, calls on companies to increase the number of women executives – currently around 3% – to 30% by 2016. The upper echelons of the Dutch police force are an exception to the male-dominated norm in the country, and at the end of 2012 37% of all executive positions in the force were occupied by women.


Legislation setting target figures for the appointment of women to executive positions came into effect on 1 January 2013. By 2016, 30% of all management positions must be occupied by women. This means a significant increase in current proportions. By 2016, the percentage of female managers at listed companies must rise from the current 3.4% to 35%. In absolute figures, this means from the current nine women in management positions to 100 women.

The number of female supervisory directors must triple, from the current figure of 56 to 178 women (NL1106019I). It is interesting to note that a legislative proposal was put before the Dutch House of Representatives by the Socialist Party (SP) at the start of 2013 limiting the number of supervisory directorships one person can hold to a maximum of five.

Targets, not quotas, at European level too

Although the European Commission (EC) decided against the introduction of a quota system for women directors at the end of 2012, it did suggest introducing targets. By 2020, listed companies should try to ensure women occupy 40% of their executive positions.

The Netherlands, like the European authorities, is also shying away from a quota system.

While there will be no sanctions for companies that fail to reach the targets, they will have to address this issue in their annual reports, possibly explaining why they have failed to put more women in management positions.

The EC has, however, adopted a firmer approach with public companies, setting them a target figure for female executives of 40% that must be achieved by 2018. Opponents within the EC point towards hard economic times, arguing that it is difficult to force companies to take on women in upper management positions. National sovereignty has been highlighted as another problem. The Member States must formulate their own legislation on quotas for women.

Because the EC sees a quota system as unfeasible – 11 countries voted against its introduction – setting a target means that the procedure to achieve a 40% ratio has been described more stringently. For example, companies are obliged to choose a woman in cases where recruitment interviews find that a male and female candidate are of equal stature. At present, management boards comprise 13.5% women and only 2.5% of all company chairs are women.

Police force: a positive exception

Figures from the end of 2012 show a remarkably high proportion of women occupy executive positions with the Dutch police force. While the number of women reaching executive positions in the commercial world has stagnated, 37% of those in leading positions in the police force are women, even though the organisation says that promoting more women to top positions has not been a guiding policy principle.

Finding the right mix of characteristics and competencies is no easy task. In some cases in the police, a four-person management team may even include three women.

However, the Internal Affairs Minister, Guusje ter Horst, did explicitly opt for a policy of diversity as an objective in her personnel policy in 2007. Although this objective was scrapped in the course of the subsequent cabinet’s term, her message clearly lingered on for senior management within the police force.

Diversity, however, not only embraces women, but also examines the ratio between Dutch nationals and non-Dutch nationals, as well as age and other characteristics. Ter Horst’s policy also contributed towards more horizontal inflow into the police so that a greater number of older people with different career origins, for instance, chose to join the force.

Stress has also been put on the importance of the creation of diverse upper management teams, the layer immediately below board level. This is seen as the breeding ground for the executive level.

The advance in career potential within the police that appears to have been achievable for women, however, is still a distant aspiration for non-Dutch nationals. They are still currently heavily under-represented.

Marianne Grünell, University of Amsterdam, AIAS/HSI

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