Scandinavia leads the way for women on boards - but not female exec directors

Norway has no female executive directors despite board quotas, while the UAE looks deceptively good for gender equality.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 13 Jan 2015

The Nordic nations have a reputation for gender equality, topping all sorts of league tables measuring the advancement of women. But oddly enough, when it comes to executive directors Norway and Finland are way down the ranks, despite taking the two top spots for the overall percentage of female company directors, according to research by headhunter Egon Zehnder.

Norway, Sweden and Finland have been consistently good at promoting women to the boardroom, topping the table back in 2010. In contrast, countries such as the UK, France and Italy have staged a huge turnaround in the last four years, the latter increasing the percentage of female directors from just 5% in 2010 to 20.2% now.

The UK, meanwhile, is fast approaching the target of having 25% female directors by next year, recommended by Lord Davies in his 2011 review. From just 13.3% of directors being female in 2010, 22.6% of board positions are now held by women.

But the Scandinavian countries bar Sweden, and European nations in general, appear to be trailing the rest of the world when it comes to women in executive roles. The six companies examined in Finland have none, as do the seven in Norway (the research only looked at companies with a turnover of more than €4bn (£3.1bn)). That's despite the latter having a 40% quota for female directors - clearly non-execs are easier to appoint quickly, than pulling executive women up the ranks ahead of plan.

In contrast to their reputation in the west, Indonesia, Turkey and Russia actually rank ahead of the the UK, US and Australia for women in executive roles, according to the study. While the UAE ostensibly leads the way on this front, there is one female exec director out of four positions in total, with the remaining 41 non-execs all men.

But for all countries, companies seem to be struggling to grow their own female leaders, as opposed to just appointing female non-exec directors from outside. Clearly, a lot of businesses need to work harder at nurturing and promoting talented women.

Want to meet Britain's highest-flying women? Come to our Inspiring Women event on 20th November to hear from speakers including Thomas Cook boss Harriet Green, Links of London founder Annoushka Ducas and M&S style director Belinda Earl. Check out the progamme and book tickets here.

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