New research ranks major European nations on boardroom gender diversity

29 April 2016 -


Boardroom diversity is improving across Europe, but the UK still lags behind European rivals, according to the latest research from European Women on Boards

Matt Scott

The proportion of women on European boards has increased significantly since 2011, according to the latest research from European Women on Boards (EWoB) in partnership with governance firm ISS.

The study of companies making up the STOXX 600 found that women now make up 25% of board members across Europe, up from 14% in 2011.

The number of boards with no women has fallen from 21% in 2011 to 5% in 2015.

The largest reason for this improvement, however, has been as a result of an increasing number of women working as non-exec and independent non-exec directors.

The proportion of non-executive directors who are female climbed to 28% in 2015 (2011: 16%) while women now take up 34% of all independent non-executive roles. Meanwhile the proportion of executive director positions filled by women stands at just 7%, up from 4% in 2011.

Marie-Ange Andrieux, co-chairwoman of EWoB and co-leader of the study, said: “The results show that women have materially increased their presence as independent non-executive directors, therefore enabling them to exert critical influence over the strategic decision-making of leading corporations.

“This is positive progress which will ultimately lead to increased innovation and competitiveness in the European economy and contribute to realize its potential of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.”

UK lags behind European rivals


The research also looked at female board representation at a country level, with Norway having the highest level of female representation at board level – with 39% of boardroom positions filled by women (see right).

Other countries performing admirably compared to the average include Sweden, France, Finland, Belgium and Denmark.

The UK, however, lags behind the European average of 25%, with female board representation of 23% - ninth out of the 12 countries represented in the STOXX 600.

Dr Roger Barker, EWoB director, member of the Institute of Directors and co-leader of the report, said: “While a general trend toward greater female participation on European boards is a key finding of our report, particularly at the non-executive level, there are still clear country-level differences.

“Overall, there is much more to be done before we can declare that men and women are operating on a level playing field in respect of leadership positions in the European corporate sector.”

But improvements are being made. In 2015, 35% of new board appointments were women compared to just 28% in 2011.

CMI chief executive Ann Francke, however, said that, while getting more women into boardrooms was an important step, more still needs to be done to smash the glass ceiling.

“Anyone who believes hitting the Davies’ targets abolished the glass ceiling is misguided,” she said. “Equality and fair progression means much more than having the same number of men and women on your board. Female managers face what I believe is more of a ‘glass pyramid’ than a ceiling. The walls close in with every step up, and you’re likely to slip down the pecking order when it comes to pay.

“Managers at every level should be accountable on equality, with transparency around hiring, pay and progression the effective solution. They are not doing anyone a favour by offering softer roles for mothers. Capability must not be judged on time served; it is simply a question of whether you’re up to the job. If you are, you must be paid the going rate.

“Anything else is simply discrimination.”

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