Europe leads global average for female board representation

Over a third (34%) of European companies have a woman on the board, making it the world’s leading continent for gender representation in 2021.

The UK exceeds the global average with 35% female board representation; however, it still ranks far behind leaders such as France which currently has the most equal balance at 45%.

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Speaking to HR magazine Pavita Cooper, deputy chair of the 30% Club which sets board diversity targets, said the figures are encouraging given the challenges of the past 18 months.

"In the midst of the pandemic that has placed such a heavy burden on women and risks wiping out decades of progress on gender equality, it is encouraging to see evidence of the advancement of women in senior leadership of companies around the world.

"This collective progress is the result of positive action from companies, regulators and governments."

However she added that more needs to be done to expedite progress.

Copper added: "In the UK, female representation at the executive committee level is roughly half of what we see in the boardrooms and progress is painfully slow."

Part of the issue, said Richard Kersley, head of global research product at Credit Suisse, is how board-level positions translate into progression further down in the company.

“Greater diversity amongst executive management as well as the boardroom should be an ongoing goal, particularly in the most senior c-suite positions,” Kersley told HR magazine.

“While not an unfavourable comparison internationally, women only occupy 24% of executive roles in large companies [in the UK] and only 8% of CEO positions. These figures are increasing, but still from a low base.”

Sophi Berridge, senior campaigns officer at The Equality Trust, added that while increased diversity is a step in the right direction, there is still a long way to go to achieve adequate parity.

Speaking to HR magazine, Berridge said: “Having 20% of women in senior management positions does not even come close to adequate representation and employers need to go beyond tick-box diversity actions such as filling percentage quotas.

“Employers need to ensure all of their policies and procedures; including providing full transparency of salary and benefit structures; promote opportunities to female employees enabling them to gain access to high-level positions and including a diversity of voices at the top table."

Globally, women now hold almost one quarter (24%) of all board positions, a proportion which has risen by nearly 10% (from 15%) since 2015.

In line with prior reports, the 2021 Credit Suisse Gender 3000 report discovered a diversity premium with companies that had greater gender diversity companies outperforming on share price and ESG score.