Women are still largely under-represented on corporate boards, despite continued efforts to improve boardroom gender diversity. 

The fifth edition of Deloitte Global’s Women in the Boardroom: A Global Perspective publication explores the efforts of more than 60 countries to promote boardroom gender diversity, and reveals that women hold just 15 percent of board seats worldwide. These numbers show only modest progress from the 2015 edition of Women in the Boardroom.

“Bridging the gender divide in the workforce is not only a matter of fairness, but also of effective governance and inclusive economic growth. Women bring diverse skills and experiences to boards that can aid in driving growth,” says Justine Mazzocco, managing partner: talent and transformation at Deloitte Africa.

For the first time, the publication includes a region-by-region analysis of the relationship between corporate leadership and diversity. A direct correlation was found between female leadership (CEOs and board chairs) to board seats held by women.

“Organisations with women in the top leadership positions have almost double the number of board seats held by women. The inverse is true as well, with gender diverse boards more likely to appoint a female CEO and board chair,” says Dan Konigsburg, senior managing director of Deloitte’s Global Centre for Corporate Governance.

“This illustrates an important trend–as the number of female CEOs and board chairs climbs, it is likely to spur greater board diversity. Yet, the percentage of women securing top leadership roles remains very low, with women holding only 4% of CEO and board chair positions globally.”

“South Africa has made progress to address gender equality on boards through the combination of various measures encompassed in legislation, the JSE listing requirements, and the King IV governance code which have positively impacted the appreciation among all stakeholders to the value of board diversity. This in turn has accelerated the rate of transformation,” says Dr Johan Erasmus, director of the Centre of Corporate Governance at Deloitte Africa.

As organisations navigate technological and societal shifts which are transforming the future of work, boards will have a critical role to play. Diversity of thought – and people – will be critical to ensure that board members are exploring challenges from every angle and consistently bringing a fresh point of view.

“Enhancing the diversity of the workforce and fostering inclusive growth is top of mind for Deloitte,” adds Konigsburg. “To support these goals, we are actively involved with initiatives ranging from our engagement with the B20 to increase female workforce participation, to our collaboration with the OECD in support of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which includes bringing gender equality to the centre of economic development.”

Konigsburg adds: “Deloitte also continues to advocate for diversity in boardrooms through our ‘Board Ready’ programmes which are delivered across the globe to help prepare women for board service.”

The research also found that boardrooms across the Americas region are not highly gender diverse:

* In the US, only 14% of board seats are held by women, a 2 percentage point increase from the 2015 edition. The percent of female board chairs has not progressed, remaining at just under 4%.
* The percent of board seats held by women in Canada grew to 18%, a 5 percentage point increase since 2015. The percentage of boards led by women dropped from 6 percent in 2015 to 5% in 2017.
* In Latin and South America overall, only 7% of board seats are held by women and 2% of board chairs are women.
Meanwhile, progress across EMEA varies significantly:
* Norway, the first country to ever introduce a gender quota, has the highest percentage of board seats held by women (42%). Seven percent of board chair positions are held by women.
* In the UK, there are no quotas in place for women on boards, but 20% of board seats and 3% of board chair positions are held by women.
* The percentage of board seats held by women has increased to 28% in Italy. However, the number of female board chairs fell 14 percentage points since 2015 to 9%.
Boardroom diversity in Australasia is on the rise:
* There are no gender quotas in Australia for women on boards; however, the numbers continue to improve. The percentage of board seats held by women is currently 20% and 5% of board chairs are women.
* New Zealand achieved the strongest growth since 2015, with the number of board seats held by women increasing to 28% (a 10-percentage point increase) and the number of female board chairs increasing to 11% (a 6 percentage point increase).
However, Asia-Pacific lags behind other regions:
* At 8%, gender diversity in some of Asia’s leading economies is the lowest compared to other parts of the world. Only a few countries in the region have quotas or other approaches to address the issue.

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