Europe's boardroom divide

Jun 16 2004 by Nicola Hunt Print This Article

New research reveals a north-south divide in Europe's boardrooms, with women in Northern Europe occupying more than one in five (22 per cent) of board seats in contrast to sunnier climes such as Spain and Italy where boards are still dominated by men.

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, president of the Paris Professional Women’s Network, part of the European Professional Women's Network that is launching the survey (conducted by Egon Zehnder International) says the research will help to set a baseline of where women stand in corporate Europe.

The findings highlight that there are also few women in senior management, with a mere five per cent represented at the highest level in business.

Complementary research on diversity amongst non executive directors (NEDs)has recently been undertaken by the head-hunters, Odgers Ray & Berndtson with Cranfield School of Management. This put the spotlight on how organisations go about recruiting NEDs. Neither reports make comfortable reading when benchmarked against the importance of diversity at the top.

Commenting on the key finding that nearly one in three firms (31%) use nominations from the board to find non-executive directors and two in five use a mix of informal networking in what they call 'the personal approach'. Virginia Bottomley who heads up the Board Practice at Odgers Ray & Berndtson says:

"All too often people under pressure recruit in their own image. Access to the broadest range of candidates using a variety of recruitment techniques is the best way to ensure diversity amongst NEDs. Working the network is simply not enough.

"In many ways, the public sector has led the requirement for more due diligence and transparency in the recruitment process. For corporations to succeed in a fiercely competitive world, it is essential that a choice of talented individuals with integrity and differing skills and perspectives is available."

Interestingly, the Odgers Ray & Berndtson research shows that one third of organisations find it moderately difficult to recruit executive directors and that sixteen per cent cite a lack of people management skills and 12 per cent a lack of interpersonal skills - softer skills traditionally associated with women . . .