Female presence in EU boardrooms shows little improvement

The number of women on the boards of Europe’s top companies is stagnating, with Portugal claiming the dubious honour of being the only country not to have a woman on the board of any of the nation’s companies.

Women occupy just 8.5% of the 4,500 corporate boardroom seats available, up by only a fraction on 2004, according to a new study by the European Professional Women’s Network.

The exceptions are the Scandinavian countries, which, through proactive policies and quotas, are surging ahead.

Norway has strengthened its lead with 28.8% (up from 22%) board seats accounted for by women, after its government introduced a new law introducing quotas of 45% for publicly listed companies. Sweden (22.8%), Finland (20%) and Denmark (17.9%) are close behind.

The rest of Europe trails these countries, although the number of companies with at least one woman on the board has increased over the past two years (from 62% to 67.8%).

The UK now has 85.9% of its boards boasting at least one woman, but overall the percentage of female directors has shifted only slightly from 10% in 2004 to just 11.4% today.

Italy and Portugal are still Europe’s laggards, with women in Belgium, Spain and Greece faring little better. However, this month Spain will put the same quota proposals before parliament that have propelled the Norwegians to the top of the league.

Firms do seem to prefer another element of diversity – that of nationality – which is progressing more quickly.

The survey shows that 22.7% of board directors are not the same nationality as their company, up from 18% in the 2004 survey. In The Netherlands and Finland, many of the female directors (71% and 42%) are foreign.

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, founder and honorary president of the European Professional Women’s Network, said: “Companies and women share a deep dislike of quotas, but this survey proves their effectiveness Ð and how little progress is made without proactive policies.”

Across Europe, women holding the top post is extremely rare. Of the 385 board positions occupied by women, only three were described as being chairwoman and four were chief executives, the report said.

Excluding Scandinavia, Europe lags well behind the US, where recent studies put the figure for women on Fortune 500 corporate boards at 14.7%. Only 10% of US companies have no women on the board, compared with 32.2% in Europe.

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