- Just 17.6% of U.S. board seats are held by women, but that number still represents an increase from 14.2% a year ago, according to a report published Wednesday by Deloitte Global.
- The U.S. remains behind other countries in this metric. Women held 21.4% of board seats in Canada and 22.7% of seats in the U.K. In six nations — Norway, France, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and Belgium — women held at least 30% of board seats.
- Legislation and changes to corporate governance play a role in countries with higher percentages, Deloitte noted. Of the six nations with 30% or more female representation, three (Norway, France and Belgium) have implemented gender quota legislation. Companies in Sweden, Finland and New Zealand have addressed the problem through self-regulation and corporate governance recommendations, Deloitte said.
Board composition is one component of the ongoing discussion around workplace representation for women, alongside issues like pay equity and sexual harassment prevention. While U.S. firms have made some progress, most of the country’s jurisdictions have yet to tackle board representation as other countries have.
Change may be on the way, however. California became the first U.S. state to pass legislation establishing a quota for female board directors, doing so in 2018. Per the law, publicly traded companies with "principal executive offices" in the state must have at least one female board member by the end of 2019. A study published earlier this month by Clemson University and University of Arizona researchers found more than one-fifth of companies had not yet met that quota, which will increase in coming years for larger boards.
Other U.S. states have yet to follow California's lead, though legislators in New Jersey and Washington have considered such measures. Findings from past research suggest U.S. companies have made some measure of progress on board representation: one analysis found 20% of board seats in the Russel 3000 stock index were held by women, while a report in April found women were appointed to 40% of open board seats at Fortune 500 companies in 2018.
Employers can improve gender parity by setting the tone at the top of their organizations, Sharon Thorne, board chair of Deloitte Global, said in a statement accompanying the report. Leaders should be held accountable for progress in this area, she added: "It is critical we take tangible, meaningful action now — or gender parity will remain an elusive goal rather than an enabler of inclusive economic growth."