EU considers laws to put women into top jobs
The European Commission says it may legislate to get more women into top management jobs in Europe because companies are too slow to improve the gender balance.
The EU's Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, said "self-regulation so far has not brought about satisfactory results" for women.
A year ago Ms Reding invited European firms to sign a voluntary pledge to appoint more women to their boardrooms.
But only 24 firms signed it, she said.
Ms Reding launched a public consultation on Monday to generate initiatives - including possible legislation - aimed at redressing the gender imbalance.
Just one in seven board members at Europe's top firms - 13.7% - is a woman, the European Commission says.
For most European countries, including the UK, Ms Reding's targets would require anything from a doubling to a trebling in the number of women on boards”
It is a slight improvement on the 11.8% in 2010, but the Commission says that at the current rate it would take more than 40 years to reach a "significant gender balance" - at least 40% of both sexes.
"I am not a great fan of quotas. However, I like the results they bring," Ms Reding said.
"I believe it is high time that Europe breaks the glass ceiling that continues to bar female talent from getting to the top in Europe's listed companies. I will work closely with the European Parliament and all member states to bring about change."
The Commission says there are big differences between EU countries on the gender issue, with women making up 27% of boards in the largest Finnish companies and 26% in Latvia, but only 3% in Malta and 4% in Cyprus.
Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain are among the countries that have introduced gender quotas for companies.