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Women's Share of European Board Seats Increases to More Than 20 Percent, but Progress Stagnant in Executive Director and Board Leadership Positions

Findings Highlighted in Egon Zehnder’s 2014 European Board Diversity Analysis

LONDON, October 8, 2014 – More than 20 percent of directors on large European company boards are women, a significant increase from 15.6 percent just two years ago and a jump from 8 percent in 2004. These are the findings of the 2014 Egon Zehnder European Board Diversity Analysis, which examined board diversity at more than 350 companies with market capitalizations in excess of €4 billion across 17 European countries. Egon Zehnder has released this report biennially since 2004.

European boards have also progressed in other aspects of diversity; today, nearly one-third of directors (32.3%) on large European company boards are non-nationals, representing a major change from 2006 when just 22.7 percent were non-nationals.

At the same time, however, the 2014 study revealed a continued scarcity of female executive directors (5.6%), which in turn carries profound weight in shaping the future of board diversity.

Europe Leads Gender Diversity Progress Worldwide

With 20.3 percent women, European boards have nearly doubled the average female representation of boards studied outside of Europe (11.6%). European boards are now in line with those in traditionally high-ranking countries like the United States (21.2%) and Australia (22.6%). The five countries worldwide with the highest percentage of women on large company boards are all European and include two non-Nordic countries for the first time: the U.K. (22.6% – a tie with Australia) and France (28.5%).

“We believe the evolution towards greater board diversity is steadily advancing, and the issue has become more deeply embedded into the conversation at the highest levels of organizations around the world,” said Rajeev Vasudeva, Chief Executive Officer of Egon Zehnder. “Boards, just as much as CEOs, must embody and champion the importance of diversity, and as average CEO tenure shortens, boards are essential for ensuring cultural and strategic continuity on this topic.”

Extending the analysis to regions outside of Europe for the first time, the report found board diversity is still in single digits in many countries’ largest companies — India (8.8%), China (9.2%), Japan (3.3%) and Russia (5.6%) — the data shows that in each region, at least one country is showing progress, such as Poland and Hungary in Eastern Europe, Indonesia in Asia and Chile in South America.

The Next Frontier: Women in Board Leadership and Executive Director Roles

Despite significant gains in female participation on European boards, women have yet to attain a corresponding share of board leadership roles. Female representation in board chair positions (2.6%) among the European boards studied is comparable to the average of 3.7 percent across all other regions.

In addition, the small number of female executive directors (5.6%) reflects the ongoing challenges European companies face in building their talent pipelines and fostering the progress of the next generation of women through their executive ranks.

“We’ve seen significant progress in the diversity of European company boards since 2004, but 20 percent female representation should be the start and not the end goal,” said Edwin Smelt, Co-Leader of Egon Zehnder’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Council. “Plenty of work remains in identifying a wider pool of female board candidates as well as retaining executive-level women and assuring their advancement within organizations so there is ample readiness to pivot to the boardroom.”
The report’s other key findings for Europe highlight:

The number of countries where at least one woman serves on the board of all the companies studied has increased to eight. In 2014, the U.K, Ireland and Austria joined France and the Nordic diversity frontrunners Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden in this distinction.

The accelerating growth in female board representation in Europe is not due to more women serving on multiple boards — that percentage dropped from 8.6 percent in 2012 to 7.3 percent.

Sharp differences exist among industry sectors in Europe. Tobacco and renewable energy companies analyzed have the highest level of female directors at 28.6 and 27.3 percent, respectively, while steel and metals (10.3%) and mining (14%) are the lowest. The study shows progress, however, with transport moving from one of the lowest-ranking sectors on gender diversity to one of the highest in 2014 (23%).

Across the regulatory landscape, the data shows that government action, backed by regulators and often accompanied by media scrutiny, has helped countries improve women’s share of board seats among their largest companies.

Seven countries have at least one non-national director on all the boards analyzed, an increase from two countries in 2012 (Finland and Luxembourg). In 2014, these countries were Austria, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, and The Republic of Ireland.

About the 2014 Egon Zehnder European Board Diversity Analysis
Egon Zehnder has tracked the board diversity of the largest companies in Europe since 2004 through six biennial reports. This report looked at the boards of 356 of the largest companies across 17 European countries. The 2014 study extended for the first time the report’s reach to regions outside of Europe and evaluated board data from an additional 568 companies from the rest of the world to benchmark progress made in Europe with global developments.

Data measured how many women are engaged as board members, the nature of their engagement — executive vs. non-executive roles, leadership roles on the board or within committees — and whether women’s participation on boards has increased or decreased over time. To be included in the analysis, companies needed a market capitalization in excess of €4 billion. BoardEx compiled the data with supplemental research by Egon Zehnder on May 1, 2014.

To access the complete 2014 Egon Zehnder European Board Diversity Analysis, please visit .
About Egon Zehnder
Founded in 1964, Egon Zehnder is the world’s leading privately-owned executive search and talent management consulting firm with more than 420 consultants in 68 offices across 41 countries. The firm provides senior-level executive search, director search, board consulting, management appraisal, executive talent development and executive leadership strategy services, including potential assessments, to many of the world’s most respected organizations. Egon Zehnder’s clients range from the largest corporations to emerging growth companies, government and regulatory bodies, and major educational and cultural organizations. For more information:

For more information about Egon Zehnder’s commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, please visit
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