Eight European countries have a higher representation of women on the board than the US, according to a 2014 Catalyst Census: Women Directors report published by Catalyst, a non-profit NGO working to advance women into leadership.
The census focuses on women’s share of board seats in stock market index companies across three regions and 20 countries, including Europe (14 countries), the US, Canada and Asia-Pacific. There is a wide gap in Europe’s percentage of women on boards which varies from 7.9% in Portugal to a high of 35.5% in Norway. However, eight of its countries have better representation than the US (19.2%), Canada (20.8%) and the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia (19.2%), Hong Kong (10.2%) and India (9.5%).
Intense public debate around the topic off diverse boards has galvanized activity on gender diversity across Europe, remarks Sandra Ondraschek-Norris, director for Catalyst. “The threat of legislation and the intensity of debate around it is probably why Europe has made better progress than the US. The countries with low representation of women risk failing behind.” Different approaches in Europe range from voluntary targets favoured by the UK, the forthcoming new quota legislation for women on corporate boards in Germany starting in 2016 and the existing legislation in nine European countries, among them Norway which mandates 40% quotas for women on the board.
In the North America region, women hold 19.2% of Standard & Poor (S&P) 500 board seats in the US and 20.8% of S&P/TSX 60 board seats in Canada. “US companies can do a wide range of actions,” advises Ondraschek-Norris. “They can work on their culture and sponsor women on boards. A token woman on the board will not make a difference to gender diversity. There are a number of initiatives that Catalyst is trying to drive such as partnering women who are board-ready and our social media campaign ‘Disrupt the Default’ which challenges assumptions about what a business leader looks like.”
By Karen Higginbottom