A Push For More Women On Corporate Boards

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German Family Minister Kristina Schroeder (from left), Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Chancellor Angela Merkel speak before a Cabinet meeting. Germany's 14-member Cabinet has five women, but women make up only 8.2 percent of the country's corporate board members.

German Family Minister Kristina Schroeder (from left), Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Chancellor Angela Merkel speak before a Cabinet meeting. Germany's 14-member Cabinet has five women, but women make up only 8.2 percent of the country's corporate board members. Michael Gottschalk/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Michael Gottschalk/AP

Women In The Boardroom

A Deloitte study compares the percentage of women serving on corporate boards in a dozen countries, half of which have laws or pending legislation setting quotas for membership by gender.

Country Percent
Women
Gender
Quota
Norway 34.3% Yes
Based on a sample of 23 listed companies. A 2005 law requires the boards of public companies to be at least 40 percent male or female.
Canada 12.5% None
Based on a sample of 136 listed companies.
United States 12.2% None
Based on a sample of 1,754 listed companies.
New Zealand 12.1% None
Based on a sample of 12 listed companies.
France 9.5% Pending
Based on a sample of 103 listed companies. A January 2011 law, not yet enacted, would require the boards of public companies to be at least 40 percent male or female.
United Kingdom 8.5% None
Based on a sample of 405 listed companies.
Australia 8.3% None
Based on a sample of 200 listed companies.
Germany 8.2% None
Based on a sample of 600 listed companies.
Spain 8.0% Yes
Based on a sample of 46 listed companies. A 2007 law requires the boards of public companies to nominate women to 40-60 percent of board seats. Companies have until 2015 to comply.
Belgium 6.8% Pending
Based on a sample of 26 listed companies. A 2009 draft law would require boards of public companies to be at least 1/3 male or female.
Netherlands 4.02% Pending
Based on a sample of 99 listed companies. A 2009 legislative amendment, approved but not yet enacted, would require boards of public companies to be at least 30 percent male or female.
Italy 3.4% Pending
Based on a sample of 56 listed companies. A 2010 law passed by one house of Italy's Parliament would require boards of public and state-owned companies to be at least 1/3 male or female. This law still needs to be passed by the upper house of Parliament.

The chief executive of Germany's largest bank, Deutsche Bank, recently said that a woman on his company's board of directors would make the board "more colorful, and prettier."

Josef Ackermann's comment sparked an outcry, in part because it comes as his country debates a law that would require companies to put more women on corporate boards. (Currently there are no women on the board of Deutsche Bank.)

Great Britain is also debating this question. France is phasing in a law. Spain has had a law since 2007. All would follow Norway, which in 2005 passed a law mandating that at least 40 percent of corporate boards' members be women.

Adrian Wooldridge, a columnist for The Economist magazine who writes about business trends, tells NPR's Steve Inskeep that in many parliaments there is a sense that companies should be more representative of the population.

"You see some parliaments where you are beginning to get up to 50 percent representation in parliament," Wooldridge says, "so these politicians sit back and think, 'Why is the corporate boardroom so different?' "

According to surveys in industrialized countries, women make up, on average, 10 percent to 12 percent of corporate board directors. In the U.S., according to a new report by the Deloitte Global Center for Corporate Governance, women make up 15.2 percent of Fortune 500 company boards. In a sample survey of 1,754 listed companies, women made up 12.2 percent of board directors.

Wooldridge says the debate over how to increase those numbers comes down to whether governments should require quotas for women or whether companies should let the market drive such appointments. He takes the latter position, and opposes quotas. "I don't think it's the business of governments to micromanage companies. It should be done by markets, by shareholders," he says.

But he cites strong arguments in favor of having more women in top decision-making roles, including their sensitivity to work-family issues. He concedes that the only way to increase the number of women on boards more rapidly is to use quotas.

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