GMI Ratings’ 2013 Women on Boards survey includes data on 5,977 companies in 45 countries around the world. The results show that progress on most measures of female representation continues to be slow. Women now hold 11% of board seats at the world’s largest and best-known companies, up 0.5 percentage points from a year ago and a total of only 1.7 percentage points since 2009. Among these companies, 63% have at least one female director, and 13% have 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. As we noted last year, women make up a higher percentage of directors in developed markets (11.8%, up from 11.2% last year) than they do in emerging markets (7.4%, both this year and last).
Underlying the incremental pace of global change are very heterogeneous trends in female board representation in different countries and regions. Leading the globe on gender-diverse boards is Europe, where legal requirements for women’s representation exist or are being considered at both the EU level and in various countries. Norway, Sweden and Finland continue to lead the developed world in their percentage of female directors, with 36.1%, 27.0%, and 26.8%, respectively. Significant increases in women’s representation are also happening in Italy and France, following the passage of recent laws on board diversity. France now ranks 4th in the world, with 18.3% female directors. (In Spain, however, where a law exists but enforcement mechanisms are weak, much less change has occurred.) In addition to raising their percentages of female directors over the last year, Italy, France, Germany, and the Netherlands have all seen sharp increases (of between 8-18 percentage points) in the proportion of companies with at least three women. Over half of French boards, and a third of those in Germany, now have at least three female directors.