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Women gain more places on European company boards

A study of European companies, Realizing Europe’s Potential: Progress and Challenges, for the EU-backed European Women on Boards (EWoB) network has shown a steady rise in the number of women on their boards following the imposition of quotas in some markets. However, there is a concern across Europe that many of these appointments are at the non-executive director or supervisory board member level rather than as appointments as senior executive directors.

The survey 0f  STOXX 600 companies covering 2011-2015 found that the presence of women on boards has increased from an average of 13.9% to 25%. The report said that out of the 12 largest European markets, five – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and Norway – now have mandatory quotas on female board membership and 10 have either an optional quota or a comply-or-explain best practice recommendation concerning board gender diversity. Those with mandatory quotas have seen the biggest jump in the numbers of women on their boards with Italy, Belgium, and France having the highest levels of growth in female board membership, by 20.4, 16.2, and 16.2 percentage points, respectively.

Women, the study found, now make up an average of 2.8 directors per board, compared with 1.5 in 2011. The number of companies without a female director has fallen consistently over the years covered, and stands at 5.4% (represented by 32 companies) in 2015, down from 21% of companies in 2011. Looking at the presence of women on board committees they now make up  28.7% of audit, 26% of remuneration and 22.6% of nomination committees.

However, the survey found that only 3.5% of European chief executives (CEO) in the study universe are women, compared with 3% in 2011. EWoB also said that the data pointed to the existence of a pay gap between male and female CEOs, non-executive chairs, and non-executive directors. The report ranked the top 12 markets and 10 industry sectors based on criteria concerning the promotion of women on boards of directors, board committees, and leadership positions. The top five countries were Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Finland, and France while the top sectors were telecommunications services, financials, utilities, consumer staples, and consumer discretionary.

Dr Roger Barker, EWoB Director 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”.

What do you think?