Mar 8, 2020 - Economy & Business

Women underrepresented in global boardrooms

Source: MSCI All-Country World Index. Note: Reflects boards of 3,046 publicly traded companies based in 46 countries. Chart: Axios Visuals
Source: MSCI All-Country World Index. Note: Reflects boards of 3,046 publicly traded companies based in 46 countries. Chart: Axios Visuals

Female representation on corporate boards around the world has doubled in the last decade. But board members — who play a big role in corporate decision-making, and earn big money for their labors — are still much more likely to be male.

Why it matters: Today is International Women's Day, and — despite unprecedented pressure from shareholders and others to diversify boardrooms — the prospects for gender parity there are bleak. Researchers say it could take another 25 years before there are just as many women as men in boardrooms worldwide.

  • "To achieve the goal faster would require increasing the number of board seats that open up each year and/or appointing women to a higher percentage of the seats that become available," according to MSCI.

Between the lines: Last year saw the biggest annual gain in global board seats held by women since 2009. California's boardroom law — which mandates that all California-based companies must have at least one female director — deserves part of the credit.

  • Outside the U.S., a number of countries, like Belgium, Norway and France, require that companies have a certain number of women on boards.

Shareholder pressure may also be pushing companies to act faster.

  • "Diversity and gender equality have been gaining traction as issues of concern to institutional investors," Meggin Thwing Eastman, MSCI’s research editorial director for ESG Research, tells Axios.
  • Eastman also cites "overall growing social attention" to board diversity as a reason for the boost.

There's progress outside of the corporate world.

  • Take the Federal Reserve. One of the most influential economic policy bodies in the world has taken a lot of flak for being too white and too male. But now, per a Reuters analysis, for the first time in the Fed's 107-year history, white men held fewer than half of board seats at its 12 regional banks.
  • Christine Lagarde became the first woman to head up Europe's central bank last year. Meantime, Ursula von der Leyen is the first to lead the European Commission.

What they're saying: "Incentives to close the gender gap are evident," researchers at Bank of America say in a new report on equality and diversity.

  • Companies "focused on gender diversity at a board, C-suite and firm level have consistently achieved higher [return on equity] and lower earnings risk," the bank found.

The bottom line: While all-male boards are becoming more rare, boards are still dominated by men.

  • The typical S&P 500 board seats four men for every woman, according to Bank of America.

Go deeper: How Wall Street is pushing for more women

Go deeper