Women still rare in Europe's boardrooms

Jun 20 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

The number of women in Europe's boardrooms is stagnating, with only the Scandinavian countries breaking the mould thanks to proactive policies and controversial quotas.

Women make up just 8.5 per cent of European corporate boardroom seats, or 385 of the 4,535 positions available, according to research by the European Professional Women's Network.

The figure represents a tiny increase on the 8 per cent the same survey found in 2004.

Norway leads the way with 28.8 per cent (up from 22 per cent in 2004) after it announced it was introducing a legal quota of 40 per cent female representation on the board of public companies.

Sweden (22.8 per cent), Finland (20 per cent) and Denmark (17.9 per cent) 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 per cent to 68 per cent).

The UK now has 86 per cent of its boards boasting at least one woman, but overall the percentage of women directors has shifted by only 1.4 percentage points, from 10 per cent in 2004 to 11.4 per cent today.

Only four women chair the board of a European company and a further three are CEOs

But while only four women chair the board of a European company and three are CEOs, three of these seven business leaders are found in the UK (Baroness Hogg is Chair of 3i Group; Sarah Thomson is joint CEO Thomson Intermedia and Dame Marjorie Scardino is CEO of Pearson).

Other women in the hot seat are Elisabeth Badinter, Chair of the French Publicis Groupe; in Spain, Stéphane Pallez is Chair of Pages Jaunes Groupe while Ana Patricia Botin-Sanz de Sautuola Y O'Shea Chairs the Benesto board. In Sweden, Annika Bolin Falkengren is CEO of Skandinaviska Erskilda Banken.

Italy and Portugal are Europe's laggards, with Portugal claiming the dubious honour of being the only country not to have a single woman on the board of any of its public companies.

Spain and Greece fare little better, although Spain will put before parliament this month the same 40 per cent quotas that seem to have propelled the Norwegians to the head of the league.

The survey also revealed that in several countries a significant number of the female board members are labour union appointees.

For example, in France 10 of the 41 female board members were union appointees and in Germany, 66 of the 83. Of the board seats occupied by employee representatives, 18 per cent were taken by women.

But if companies are slow to elevate women to the board, they appear to have few scruples in appointing board directors of a different nationality.

The survey shows that 23 per cent of board directors are not the same nationality as their company, up from 18 per cent in 2004.

In The Netherlands and Finland, many of the female directors (71 per cent and 42 per cent) were of a foreign nationality.

The research underlines the fact that with the exception of the Scandinavians, Europe continues to lag behind when compared to the United States. Recent research by Catalyst put the US figure for women on Fortune 500 corporate boards at 14.7 per cent in 2005, up from 13.6 per cent in 2003.

Meanwhile, only 10 per cent of US companies have no women board directors compared to Europe's 32 per cent.

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 - and how little progress is made without proactive policies."