U.S. puts Europe and Asia to shame with women on the board

Oct 02 2006 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Women make up less than one in 10 of the membership of executive committees and boards of directors around the world, with representation in North America putting Europe and Asia to shame.

A new study of the 300 largest companies in the world, in terms of market capitalisation, (the top 100 in Europe, the top 100 in North America and the top 100 in Asia) found there were twice as many women at boardroom level and on executive committees in the U.S and Canada than there are in Europe.

The Asian economies did even worse, with eight times fewer women than in North America, according to the survey carried out by international executive search firm Christian & Timbers and communications agency Capital Com.

In the UK, meanwhile, a separate survey by consultants Deloitte has found that there has been no change in the tiny number - a mere three per cent - of female directors of the country's largest companies.

Only nine FTSE 350 firms are run by women and only two FTSE 100 companies are female-led – media group Pearson by Marjorie Scardino and Drax Power by Dorothy Thompson.

So is the problem the environment or the women? A bit of both according to Florence Magne, Partner, Christian & Timbers.

"The reticence of women to sacrifice their family life for career achievement does exist. But our social model, even if it is evolving, remains conservative, with diehard stereotypes regarding roles, behaviour and positions that are suited to women.

In addition, the organisation of major companies traditionally based on male patterns is often unfavourable to female Directors who are perceived as being less available", she added.

While each North American company in the survey had at least one female in their governing body, 18 European companies and 66 Asian companies had none at all.

Some 29 North American companies had boards and executive committees made up of more than 20 per cent of women, compared with five in Europe and two in Asia.

Women were most likely, at boardroom level, to be in roles where they supervised accounts and, on the executive committee, to have an operational role, the survey found.

Regionally, when it came to overall representation, Canada did extremely well – with women making up 19 per cent of the executive committees, compared with 14.8 per cent in the U.S.

There were wide variations within the European Union, with Sweden (27 per cent) and Finland (17.6 per cent) doing well.

At the other end of the scale came Belgium, with 1.8 per cent, Italy (2.6 per cent) and Spain (3.1 per cent).

As for Asia, there are hardly any women at the head of the large groups (2.1 per cent).

However, China - often considered a patriarchal society in many ways – reported a creditable 5.7 per cent, virtually on a par with France, as is Korea, with 4.5 per cent.

But India (1.8 per cent) and Japan (1.4 per cent) did markedly less well.

Within Europe, just one woman (Anne Lauvergeon of energy company Areva) is chief executive of a large group.

In contrast, two North American women from the top 100 companies have been appointed as chief executives this year alone: Indra Nooyi of Pepsico and Irene B Rosenfeld of Kraft Foods.

Florence Magne insisted that more women at the top would be a positive force for good.

"Women provide organisations with a complementary point of view, greater flexibility, more emotional intelligence and their capability to be strong team players. They are often perceived as agents of change," she said.