For the first time since Corporate Women Directors International (CWDI), the research arm of the Global Summit of Women, began examining the composition of the Boards of Directors of companies in the Fortune Global 200 listing in 2004, the percentage of women directors crossed the 20% line in new research presented at the 2018 Summit in Sydney. The current percentage of 21.4% doubles the percentage of women directors of these global powerhouses which stood at 10.4% in 2004.
The increase has largely been driven by European companies in the listing whose percentage of women on boards has increased from 9.1% in 2004 to 32.1% at the start of 2018. The surge of women directors in Europe has been due to national initiatives to accelerate women’s access to board positions, primarily through quotas. Leading the way in Europe and globally are France and Italy, both of whom have legislative quotas which moved rapidly the numbers of women appointed to board seats. From 2004 to the present, women on boards of French companies in the Fortune Global 200 have increased from 7.2% to 43.4%, while women holding board seats of Italian companies have increased from 1.8% to 34.8%.
Lagging behind Europe are the U.S. and other countries in the Americas. Since 2004, the percentage of women board directors on the American continent has increased only 0.5% per year, from 17% in 2004 to 24.5% in 2018. Further behind Europe, but having shown some significant increases in certain countries, is the Asia-Pacific region. While the current percentage in the region is only 7.6%, this represents a major jump from its percentage in 2004 when it was a paltry 0.9%.
The report makes the case for quotas and other national initiatives to move the needle. “The ‘supply’ of board-ready women has been there for some time, but what quotas do is force the demand from companies within a specified timeline,” said CWDI Chair Irene Natividad. “That’s why they are effective.”