Boardroom gender parity 20 years away as UK falls behind Europe

Gender diversity on boards is slowly improving, but at the current rate of progress it will take 20 years before global boardrooms achieve gender parity in Egon Zehnder survey

The latest figures from headhunter and leadership advisory consultancy, Egon Zehnder, show that nearly 19% of seats on the boards of the largest companies globally are held by women, up from 14% in 2012.

The global total of companies with at least one woman on the board reached 84% in 2016, up from 76% in 2012.

If progress continues at the same global rate as the last two years, 1.6% per annum, the average number of women per board will reach a critical mass of three, which is the number of women per board needed for transformative and sustainable change, by 2021. Despite progress on numbers, gender parity remains a distance dream, still 20 years away.

Egon Zehnder stressed that the pipeline for increasing female presence in the boardroom is poor, as the overall global ratio of male to female directors for new appointments remained on average at three males to one female for board appointments.

It points out that current and former CEOs and CFOs represent the highest share of new board appointments, but women hold just 4% of CEO roles and 1% of CFO roles globally.

Looking at the performance of individual countries, women made up 29% of all new hires to UK boards last year, although this was down from 32.1% in 2014 and 31.6% in 2012.

The spurt of activity in women hires in the UK appears to have slowed since the release of the final Davies Report on Boardroom Diversity in 2015, which set revised targets of 33% female representation on boards by 2020.

The UK figure is lower than the western Europe average of 35.4%.

Progress in the US is also stagnant. From 2012 to 2014, the US experienced just 1% growth in board diversity, going from 19% in 2012 to 20% in 2016. The country has also fallen short of the three-female member tipping point with 2.1 women per board.

In 11 of the countries, at least half the boards studied had no women at all. These included Russia, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Czech Republic and United Arab Emirates.

Rajeev Vasudeva, CEO, Egon Zehnder, said: ‘A modern organization is only as successful as its leader-ship's ability to navigate a near-constant state of change, and the momentum for achieving gender parity is simply not occurring at the pace of progress required.

‘The global board diversity analysis reinforces that we must continue to accelerate efforts to broaden opportunities at the highest levels of leadership for women, requiring we rethink what great leader-ship entails.’

The bi-annual study, which examines board data for 1,491 of the world's largest companies across 44 countries globally with market capitalization exceeding €6bn (£5.1bn), has been produced since 2004.

Egon Zehnder’s Global Board Diversity Analysis report is here

Report by Pat Sweet, online reporter at CCH Daily

Pat Sweet |Reporter, Accountancy Daily [2010-2021]

Pat Sweet was the former online reporter at Accountancy Daily and contributor to the monthly Accountancy magazine, pub...

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