Achieving gender diversity on boards

Getting on board: gender diversity on corporate boards

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How much progress have women made towards joining corporate boards? What can corporations do to encourage more gender diversity? Take a closer look at our findings.

Reaching the tipping point

The greatest increases in gender diversity occurred among boards that already had at least one female director serving.

This may indicate that those boards that have experienced it now recognize the value and impact that diversity can have on board thinking and function. Of the companies that added at least one female director since 2006, about 60% already had at least one woman serving.

A small number of companies (4%) have passed what some consider the tipping point – at least a third of the board is represented by female directors.

Women make up 14% of board seats

  2006 2007
S&P 1500 companies    
Percentage of board seats filled by women 11% 14%
S&P 1500 companies    
Percentage of board seats filled by women 11% 17%

90% of S&P 500 companies have female directors

The commitment to diversity is stronger among larger companies – 90% of S&P 500 companies have at least one female director on their boards, and more than 60% have two or more.

This compares to 75% of companies in the S&P 1500 with at least one female director, and just fewer than 40% with two or more. While these gains in gender diversity are important, these women generally represent less than 20% of the directors on the boards where they serve.

Number of women directors on US corporate boards

  S&P 1500 S&P 500
Percent of companies with: 2006 2012 2006 2012
No women directors 35% 26% 14% 10%
One woman director 36% 36% 39% 28%
Two women directors 21% 27% 34% 42%
Three women directors 6% 9% 10% 15%
Four women directors 1% 2% 3% 4%
Five or more women directors <1% <1% 1% 2%

A strong majority of those boards with no female directors in 2006 have not added a woman since. Of the companies with no women on their boards in 2006:

  • 31% had one more female director in 2012 than in 2006
  • 6% had two more female directors in 2012 than in 2006
  • 1% had three more female directors in 2012 than in 2006
  • 62% had no change in the number of female directors since 2006

Women join boards at higher rate

Of the more than 1,800 directorships currently held by women, nearly 40% joined their respective boards in the last five years. And the rate at which women are joining boards as a percentage of all new members continues to increase. The impact of this is diluted because the overall number of directors joining boards has declined.

Women as a percentage of new board members

Year joining board Women as a percentage of new board members
2012 21%
2011 18%
2010 16%
2000-2009 14%
1990-1999 11%
1980-1989 6%
1970-1979 2%
1960-1969 3%

Market-based solutions for diversity

Some markets are taking aggressive action to address the problem of gender inequality on boards. The European Commission recently proposed legislation that sets an objective that, by 2020, boards of large publicly listed companies in Europe have 40% of their non-executive board seats held by women1.

Others have already implemented, or are considering mandatory or voluntary, board diversity goals.

The rate at which women are joining US boards is increasing. It is not, however, at a pace that will result in clear strengthening of board diversity in the short term.

1European Commission, Women on Boards: Commission proposes 40% objective, 14 November 2012. http://ec.europa.eu/justice/newsroom/gender-equality/news/121114_en.htm#Press




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