Women are joining the boards of Europe’s largest companies in greater numbers than ever before – accounting for a third of all new board appointments in 2012, according to an analysis released Thursday by Egon Zehnder International, an executive search firm.
The study shows an accelerating trend in the participation of women; the share of all board seats held by women has risen by 28% in the past two years to 15.6% compared to 12% in 2010. This is equivalent to almost half of the total progress from the baseline set in Egon Zehnder’s first analysis in 2004, when only 8% of board seats were held by women.
The number of European companies with at least one woman on the board has equally risen, jumping to 86% this year: a 9% increase from 2010 (79%) and a 41% increase since 2004 when only 61% of all boards included a woman. If this trend continues at the current rate, women will be represented on the boards of all of Europe’s largest companies within the next two to four years and account for 25% of all board roles within the next five years.
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Regionally, the UK has 95% of leading companies with at least one woman. However, in Greece, Italy and the Netherlands almost a third of boards are still wholly male.
“Our statistics suggest we could be at a tipping point, with women set to fill one in four of all board roles across Europe within five years,” said Damien O’Brien, chief executive and chair of Egon Zehnder International in a news release. “To sustain future growth, the key challenge for organizations will be to ensure more women rising through the executive ranks. This will not only prepare them for future board positions but will also serve as a role model and inspire the next generation of female leaders.”
While the equity of the genders in the boardroom improved in Europe, other C-Suite positions are failing to respond as quickly. Only one in 20 executive board positions (as opposed to one in six of all board positions) are today held by a woman – and there has been no progress since 2010.
Just seven of 415 chair roles across the companies surveyed were held by a woman, again with no progress since 2010. The analysis also shows that women board members are on average almost five years younger than their male counterparts.
Diversity, however, is about more than just gender. The analysis shows that boards are simultaneously becoming more international, with a steep increase in non-national board members since 2010. In 2012, 31.5% of Europe’s top companies’ board members were non-nationals, against 27.8% in 2010. International appointments in the largest companies in Europe accounted for 33% of all appointments in the past 12 months (compared with 37% of women appointments).
According to the 30Percent Coalition, women hold 12–16% of corporate board positions with S&P 500 companies.
–Alanna Stage, @AlannaTweets