2018 CWDI Report on Women Board Directors of Fortune Global 200 Companies

2018 CWDI Report: Women Board Directors of Fortune Global 200 Companies

Key Findings

Women now hold 21.4% of all director positions on the boards of the 200 largest companies in the world – the Fortune Global 200 – doubling the percentage of women directors since 2004, when only 10.4% of board appointments were held by women in these global powerhouse companies representing 26 countries. 


Regional Comparison

  • European companies have driven the surge in the percentage of women board directors in the Fortune Global 200.  Since 2004, the overall percentage of women on boards of the European companies in the listing has increased tremendously – from 9.1% to 32.1%, largely due to national initiatives to speed up women’s access to board seats.

France and  Italy, far and away, account for the largest gains in Europe from 2004 to thepresent.  French companies in Fortune Global 200 have increased from 7.2% to 43.4%, while Italian companies have increased from 1.8% to 34.8%.


  • The largest companies in the Americas (primarily US companies with a small number in Brazil and Mexico) dominated the Fortune Global 200 in 2004 and led globally in women’s board appointments at 17%.


In 2017, the percentage of women directors in the Americas has increased only 7.5% to 24.5%, at an average rate of only 0.5% annually.  While there is much dialogue and efforts to increase women’s representation on boards in the U.S., and to a smaller extent in Brazil and Mexico, no nationally-driven program has emerged.

  • Fortune Global 200 companies in the Asia-Pacific region, which now represent the largest slice of the 200 largest companies in the world, have only 7.4% women’s representation on their boards of directors.  This is, however, a significant increase from 0.9% women’s directorship in 2004.  For most countries in the region, there is little dialogue or sustained efforts to increase women’s board appointments.


  • Though the Asia-Pacific region considerably trails Europe and the Americas in placing women on boards, they now dominate the Fortune Global 200 listing. In 2004, there were only 36 Asia-Pacific companies compared to 83 European and 81 from the Americas. In the 2017 listing, there are now 71 Asia-Pacific companies, 69 from the Americas and 61 from Europe.


Why Europe Leads

The increase of women directors in Europe is the direct result of concerted national efforts to accelerate women’s access to board seats through legislated mandates.


  • Since 2004, the number of countries with legislative quotas for publicly-listed or state-owned companies has increased from 7 to 24.  Of these 24 countries, 17 are in Europe. Three others are in Asia, and two are in each of Africa and the Middle East.


  • Quotas are working.  Fortune Global 200 companies based in countries with quotas averaged 33% women’s representation on boards compared to 17.1% in countries without quotas, a difference of 15.9%.  The rates of increase are larger and faster in Fortune Global 200 companies based in countries with quotas.


  • Among the Top Ten Companies with the highest percentage of women directors, 16 (out of the 20 in the Top Ten), are from countries with quotas.  Eleven are based in France, 3 from Germany, and one each from Italy and the Netherlands.

In 2004, of the 27 companies with the ten highest percentages (ranging from 50% to 23.1%), 20 were based in the US.  In the current Top Ten listing, only three of 20 Fortune Global 200 companies are from the US.


  • The company with the highest percentage of women board directors among Fortune Global 200 companies is French energy giant Engie, with  9% (9 women out of 17) women directors

Four other companies have also reached gender parity on their board.  From France, Total S.A., BNP Paribas, and Societe Generale all have 50% women’s representation on their Board, while U.S.-based General Motors has also reached the 50% mark.

Why Corporate Governance Codes Matter

Since quotas remain a controversial strategy for increasing women’s board representation, other countries have utilized a private sector (as opposed to governmental) initiative in which gender diversity is added to corporate governance codes or stock exchanges’ listing requirements. 


  • In 2004, there were only four countries with such language in their corporate governance codes; now there are 28.  The majority are recommendations only, but a few are required.  Fourteen of these countries are in Europe, 8 are in Asia, 4 are in Africa and 2 are in the Middle East.


  • While this initiative is not mandatory like quotas, they have also proven to be effective in moving the needle on women directors. Fortune Global 200 companies based in countries with gender diversity provisions in corporate governance codes averaged 33% women directors, while companies based in countries without those guidelines had 16.6% women-held board seats.  This difference of 16.4% has increased from 8.6% in the past three years.

The Present

  • The three largest economies in the world – U.S., China and Japan – still have no national initiative to increase women’s board representation.

   Since 2004, the increase in the percentage of women board directors in the US (8.8%), China (4.8%), and Japan (7%) has paled in comparison to the increase in countries with proactive strategies for accelerating women’s access to corporate leadership.

Their meager increases are far below those in Europe with quota legislation: France (36.2%), Italy (33%), Germany (22.3%), and the Netherlands (15.5%), and those with corporate governance code recommendations, such as the UK which has increased 13% without a legislative quota.

  • It should be noted that nearly 20% (19.5%) of the 200 largest companies in the world still have 0 women board directors.  Among these 39 companies, 35 are based in Asia, of which 20 are headquartered in China.



  • Whether quotas or targets, whether through legislative mandates or private sector strategies, opening up women’s access to corporate board seats will not happen unless there is a concerted national  Relying on the old belief that meritocracy alone will make women rise to the top of corporate leadership is naïve given the plethora of male-dominated boards which recruit their own.
  • Boards must be repeatedly exposed to the ‘business case’ for more women on corporate boards.  There are currently over 75 research studies from numerous countries indicating that more women on boards correlates with a company’s better financial performance (See Appendix III for bibliography).  As a McKinsey report indicated, however, only 29% of corporate executives see gender diversity in corporate leadership as a necessary component of their business strategy.
  • Companies should insist that when board openings occur that Nominations Committees’ or search firms’ recommendations include women candidates.