Italy aims to boost quotas for women on corporate boards

MILAN, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Italy is set to tighten quotas aimed at getting more women on corporate boards, raising the threshold to 40% and underlining the success of measures that have turned the country from one of Europe’s laggards to one of the top five in less than a decade.

The so-called “pink quota”, part of a package of budget measures expected to be approved by the end of the year, builds on an original law passed in 2011, requiring listed companies to have at least 30% female representation on their boards.

When former lawmaker Lella Golfo presented the law in 2011, there were only 170 women on Italian corporate boards, against more than 2,700 men, a level of 6%. Today the level is around 38% and over 40% in supervisory boards.

“At the time, the Bank of Italy said it would take at least 50 years to reach the 30% threshold,” Golfo said.

A recent survey by Credit Suisse, “The CS Gender 3000 in 2019”, put Italy in fifth place globally behind Sweden, Belgium, Norway and France, where 44.4% of board members are women.

“The main benefit is the improvement of the quality of boards in general,” said Maria Elena Cappello, a board member in four listed Italian companies -- MPS, Prysmian , Saipem and Tim.

A series of top Italian companies have now included gender equality provisions in their bylaws, including gas utility Snam , power group Enel, Ubi Banca and aerospace and defence giant Leonardo.

The change in a country not generally known for favouring women’s careers has been widely welcomed but many caution that much more needs to be done to achieve true balance among corporate leadership.

Alessandro Profumo, a former top banker who now heads Leonardo, said the ranking achieved by Italy is “an excellent signal” but added that to achieve a proper balance in top corporate leadership, “we need a profound change of mentality.”

Golfo, who now heads a foundation named for Marisa Bellisario, one of Italy’s first female managers, noted that while there were more women on boards, only 7% of chief executives were women.

“But a virtuous circle has started,” she said.

The measure was approved by the Senate on Monday and must go to the lower house, where it is expected to be receive final approval by the end of the year. (Reporting by Giancarlo Navach; Editing by James Mackenzie, William Maclean)