Knowledge Center

Women on Corporate Boards Globally

Global Overview

Although Boardroom Diversity Is Increasing, Women Remain Underrepresented

Looking at more than 3,000 global companies, Credit Suisse found that women held 14.7% of board seats in 2015.1

  • This was up 54% since 2010.2

Out of the 4,218 companies covered in MSCI’s study, women held 15% of board seats.3

  • This is up from 12.4% the previous year.4

Of those companies, 73.5% had at least one woman director.5

  • Only 20.1% had boards with at least three women.6

In Deloitte's analysis of nearly 6,000 companies in 49 countries, women held 12% of board seats.7

  • Only 4% of board chair positions were held by women.8
Consumer Staples Sector Was Slightly Higher Than Other Sectors in Women Board Directors

Credit Suisse found that consumer staples had the most women on boards, at 16.3%.9

  • Financials ranked second, at 14.8%.10
  • The materials sector had the least, at 11.6%.11
Nearly Three-Quarters of Boards Globally Have At Least One Woman

MSCI found that 73.5% of companies have at least one woman board director.12


To Reap the Benefits of Diversity, Boards Need at Least Three or More Women

Yet only 20.1% of boards have at least three women.13

  • Research from many scholars and organizations, including Catalyst, have found that three women or more are needed to create a "critical mass" of women, which can lead to better financial performance.14
  • MSCI found that three or more women changes boardroom dynamics substantially and “enhances the likelihood that women’s voices and ideas are heard.”15
Research From All Over the World Confirms the Benefits of Gender-Balanced Boards

Catalyst's research series The Bottom Line found that companies that had more women on boards had better financial results than those who had fewer.16

  • Companies with the most women board directors had 16% higher Return on Sales (ROS) than those with the least, and 26% higher Return on Invested Capital (ROIC).17

MSCI found that companies with "strong female leadership" (primarily measured by women on boards) were correlated with higher Return on Equity (ROE) than companies without (10.1% vs. 7.4%), as well as a superior price-to-book ratio (1.76 vs. 1.56).18

MSCI also found that companies with fewer women on boards had more governance-related controversies than average.19


Globally, European Countries Are Leading the Way

Norway (46.7%), France (34.0%), and Sweden (33.6%) had the highest percentages of women on their boards, in the Credit Suisse analysis.20

  • Taiwan (4.5%), South Korea (4.1%), and Japan (3.5%) were the lowest.21
Some Countries Are Using Quotas and Targets to Drive Up Numbers

One study found that countries with specific targets, quotas, and penalties for not meeting regulations, including Norway, Iceland, Finland, and Sweden, had nearly double the average percentage of women on boards (about 34%) than countries without those measures had (about 18%).22


Almost a Quarter of ASX 200 Board Seats Are Held by Women

Women hold 23.4% of board seats as of June 2016, up from 8.3% in 2009.23

  • 10% of those boards have zero women, meaning 20 ASX company boards are men-only.24
Women Are Approaching Half of New Board Appointments

For the first half of 2016, women made up 40% of new appointments.25

  • This is up from 34% in 2015, 30% in 2014, and 22% in 2013.26


Over One-Fifth of Board Seats in the Financial Post 500 Were Held by Women

Women held 21.6% of board seats in 2016.27

  • That is almost double from 10.9% in 2001.28 
Nearly Half of the TSX Boards Were All Male

Of the 677 companies on the TSX, 45% had zero women.29


In the STOXX Europe 600, Women Hold a Quarter of Board Seats

Women hold 25% of positions on Europe’s largest publicly listed company boards.30

  • This is up from 13.9% five years ago.31

About 5% of those boards have zero women.32

  • Among Europe’s largest publicly listed company boards, 32 (5.4%) are men-only.33
  • In 2011, 21% of company boards had no women.34
Women Are Better Represented on Most Board Committees Than Boards Overall

Percent of committee members that are women:35

  • Audit: 28.7%
  • Remuneration: 26.0%
  • Nomination: 22.6%
Women Are Far Less Likely to Lead Boards or Board Committees

Percent of board chairs and committee chairs that are women:36

  • Board chairs: 4.0%
  • Audit committee chairs: 16.7%
  • Remuneration committee chairs: 22.3%
  • Nomination committee chairs: 8.8%


A Study of Asia-Pacific Boards Showed Some Notable Increases for India

Women held 8.6% of board seats in 2014.37

  • This is an increase from 7.3% in 2013.38

Another study, the Credit Suisse report, found that women represented 11.2% of board members in 2015 in India, up from 5.5% in 2010.39


India Dramatically Reduced All-Male Boards Within a Year

In 2014, 29% of these boards were men-only, down from 44% in 2013.40


Women Directors Are a Minuscule Part of Boards on the TOPIX Index

One analysis of the index found that women held 2.7% of board seats.41

  • This is up from 1.7% the previous year.42

Another study, the Credit Suisse report, found that women represented 3.5% of board members in 2015 in Japan, up from 0.9% in 2010.43

United States


Women held 19.9% of board seats at S&P 500 companies.44


2.8% of S&P company boards have zero women directors.45

  • 24.6% of those boards have only one woman director.46
Most S&P 500 Boards Are Still At Least Two-Thirds Men

Only 14.2% of company boards have 30% or more women.47

More Than a Quarter of New Directorships on the S&P 500 Were Women

Women constituted 26.9% of new directorships.48

Additional Resources

The Case for Gender Diversity on Boards

Catalyst, Why Diversity Matters (2013).

Vivian Hunt, Dennis Layton, and Sara Prince, “Why Diversity Matters,” McKinsey, January 2015.

Tim Smedley, "The Evidence is Growing–There Really is a Business Case for Diversity," Financial Times, May 14, 2014.

Caroline Turner, "The Business Case for Gender Diversity," The Huffington Post, August 10, 2016.


30% Club.

Thirty Percent Coalition.

Catalyst, Women on Board.

Board Directors Surveys

Heidrick & Struggles, 2015 Board of Directors Survey (2015).

PwC, "2016 Annual Corporate Directors Survey."

Spencer Stuart and WomenCorporateDirectors Foundation, 2016 Global Board of Directors Survey (2016).

Egon Zehnder, "2016 Global Board Diversity Analysis."

How to cite this product: Catalyst. Quick Take: Women on Corporate Boards Globally. New York: Catalyst, January 4, 2017.