GMI Ratings’ 2012 Women on Boards survey includes data on over 4,300 companies in 45 countries around the globe. The results show incremental improvement in most measures of female board representation since our 2011 report. For the first time ever, women hold more than one in ten board seats globally: 10.5% of the directors in our coverage universe are now women, a 0.7 percentage point increase from last year. At the same time, the percentage of companies with no female directors at all has fallen below 40% for the first time, to 39.8% (a two percentage point decrease since last year). Moreover, the percentage of companies with at least three women — a level that some research suggests may constitute a critical mass and allow women’s leadership styles to come to the fore  — has risen by 1.3 percentage points, to just under one-tenth (9.8%) of companies worldwide.
However, these global statistics mask important differences, both among individual countries and between blocks of countries at different stages of economic development. For example, when the world’s industrialized economies are viewed as a group, 11.1% of directors are women, 63.3% of companies have at least one woman on the board, and 10.5% of companies have three or more female directors. For emerging markets as a group, only 7.2% of directors are women, 44.3% of companies have at least one woman on the board, and 6.3% of companies have at least three female directors. Furthermore, national statistics within each group vary widely. For example, over 36% of Norway’s directors are women, compared to less than 13% of Germany’s and just over 1% of Japan’s; South Africa has over 17% female directors, China 8.5%, and Brazil 4.5%.
This heterogeneity reflects the wide range of approaches countries are taking with respect to board diversity, involving legal requirements, corporate governance guidelines, listing exchange standards, mentoring programs, and other voluntary initiatives. This year, two prominent illustrations of different approaches come from France and Australia, the two countries with the largest one-year increase in female board representation. While France’s increase is a result of legislation, Australia’s comes in response to a corporate governance code amendment, with an assist from a high-level mentoring program.
The statistics on current levels of female board representation should be seen in the context of each country’s unique history, culture, and governance structure, which can affect board diversity in many ways. For example, in some countries, unions, governments, or founding families appoint a substantial number of directors; these entities may be responsible for a significant percentage of the female directors currently serving on corporate boards in particular markets. However, these questions—as well as the related one of what percentage of female directors, on average, are independent of management or controlling owners—fall outside the scope of this report. Similarly, although our study does not describe this in detail, the statistics for recent changes in female board representation need to be viewed in the context of each country’s typical board election processes. Countries where annual director elections are common, for example, might show change more quickly than those where the board stands for election only every fourth or fifth year. The intent of our survey is to provide a global, point-in-time snapshot, as a jumping-off point for further discussion and study.
Section II of this report presents, in graphical form, global aggregate percentages of female directors, chairs and committee positions, as well as the Industrialized and Emerging Markets breakdown. We also present information on the percentage of female directors, the percentage of companies with at least one woman on the board, and the percentage of companies with at least three women, for 20 industrialized countries and 10 emerging market economies, along with the relevant economic market baseline figures. The third section discusses ten countries of particular interest (six in the industrialized world and four in emerging markets), presenting the data points shown in Section II’s global aggregates table for each specific country. The final section of the report describes our methodology and includes a tabular presentation of the data for all the countries in our coverage universe.
 See Konrad, A.M., Kramer, V.W., and Erkut, S.: “Critical mass: The Impact of Three or More Women on Corporate Boards,” Organizational Dynamics, Volume 37, Issue 2 (April-June 2008), 145-164.