HR Magazine has reported that the proportion of women on the boards of the top UK companies has increased to 13.6% in 2010 from 11.5% in 2008. Additionally, the proportion of UK companies with at least one woman on the board has risen to 84% in 2010 from 81% in 2008.


Women make up 11.7% of boards at the top 300 European companies, up from 8.5% in 2008. Of a total 4,875 board seats, women occupy 571.

Luke Meynell, co-head of the European board practice at Russell Reynolds Associates, said: “There is considerable variation across the region, with the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands having the greatest representation of women on boards. Of the four largest economies, the UK and Germany both have women on 84% of boards, ahead of France (79%) and Italy (44%). Although the proportion of women on boards is growing across Europe, only seven women hold CEO or executive chairwoman positions in the top 300 companies. The UK leads the way with three female CEOs.”

Norway’s growth path following the introduction of a gender quota for board members shows a slowdown to 37.9% women on boards (from a peak of 44.2% in 2008) and is followed by the other Scandinavian countries. Sweden slightly increased to 28.2%, up from 26.9% in 2008, while Finland remained substantially stable (25.9% in 2010 compared with 25.7 in 2008) whereas Denmark decreased to 14% (down from 18.1%). Still, Scandinavian countries continue to outperform the rest of Europe.

Most European countries – including Southern Europe – show a growing trend, probably thanks to some initiatives related to quota legislation under discussion or Corporate Governance Codes now effective, and to the many private initiatives and press attention for the issue of women’s under-representation on boards in the past few years. Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain, Belgium and France have more than doubled the number of women on boards, even though some of them start from such a low number that the result doesn’t appear to be positive enough. All the countries included in the panel, apart from Luxemburg and Ireland, show a very positive trend. In the UK, the proportion of women on boards has increased to 13.6% from 11.5% in 2008. Eleven countries out of 17 are now above 10%. Italy and Portugal show the largest growth rates even though they remain below 5% (3.93% and 3.45% respectively).

The average European board is now comprises 11.7 people, of which are 1.4 women. The size of boards has decreased since 2006, when the average European board comprised 15.1 people, of which 1.5 were women. Women today therefore play a stronger role than two years ago.

Eight out of 10 companies (80%) have at least one woman on the board, up from 72% in 2008 and 68% in 2006. However, still one out of five companies has an all male board.

A quarter of board members are of a different nationality from that of the company’s headquarters (up from 23.5% in 2008). The UK is far more advanced than the other major economies: 31% of UK boards have international members, versus 21% in France, 16% in Germany and 11% in Italy. For women, the proportion of internationals is even higher, reaching 30.2% in 2010.


Comment: All this is extremely encouraging from an equal opportunities and even from a diversity point of view. In a subtle way, it’s also changing the nature and culture of business. However, please spare a thought for the increasingly large numbers of men who, in the light of these trends, are now condemned to never fulfilling their ambition of getting a boardroom seat.