Europe leading way for equality on corporate boards

Report shows quotas appear to be working

A new report shows when it comes to breaking the proverbial corporate glass ceiling, Europe is leading the way in the number of women serving on the boards of directors at top global companies, easily outpacing its counterparts in the United States, China and Japan.

The survey was put together by the Corporate Women Directors International, and the research points to new legal quotas are one of the main reasons for the European lead. Conversely, U.S., China and Japan did not posses any kind of regulation or provision that would spur gains when it came to putting women onto boards.

The release of the survey coincided with the CWDI conference held in Paris last week. The Washington-based CWDI has been closely monitoring trends in the boardroom during the last several decades, reporting on changes when it comes to having female representation.

The survey found that 16 of the 25 Global 200 companies with the highest percentages of women board members are now European, topped by Norway’s Statoil, with 50 percent, according to the Financial Times. The study also found companies in the Asia-Pacific region lag behind their peers in Europe and America even though they hold a number of top companies and major firms.

“Quotas are working,” said Irene Natividad, head of Corporate Women Directors International, a Washington-based group that has run a survey of female board representation for 10 years. “What is not working is doing nothing. Thinking that women will move up by osmosis is a mistake.”

The CWDI survey showed that in Europe, seven French companies and three Italian ones lead when it came to women serving on corporate boards. Both countries have legislation on legal quotas, in addition to 22 other nations.  The U.S., however, was down to eight companies compared with 20 out of the 27 best performers a decade ago. Procter & Gamble leads the rankings with 45.5 percent of female directors. In Asia, Malaysia plans to implement a quote system by 2016 with India and the United Arab Emirates also introducing limited quotas.

According to the Financial Times, CWDI’s annual study, which was published earlier this month, also showed the percentage of women board directors among Fortune Global 200 companies edging up to just 17.3 per cent, from 10.4 per cent in 2004.

The report also showed a total of seven are French, with three from Italy, both countries that have, like the pioneer Norway, implemented legal quotas. The Financial Times says the U.S. share was down to eight companies, compared with 20 out of the 27 best performers a decade ago. The top-ranked US company was Procter & Gamble, with 45.5 per cent women directors. The only Asia-Pacific company in the top 25 was from Australia. 

Contributing Author

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Alexis Harrison

Alexis Harrison is a Connecticut-based writer and public relations professional whose career spans both print journalism and broadcast news. Alexis started her professional life as...

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