CWDI in the News

More U.S. Companies Placing More Women on Boards

Overall Percentage of Women Directors of 200 largest companies globally only increases slightly to 22.4%

[Washington, DC, November 6, 2019]  
While the percentage of women board directors serving European companies remains higher than on boards of U.S. companies, the number of U.S. companies placing more women directors is pushing into Europe’s recent dominance.  According to a new report by Corporate Women Directors International (CWDI) examining board composition of the 200 largest companies in the world as ranked by Fortune, the percentage of women board directors in European companies stands at 34.1%, as of October 31, 2019, while the percentage of women on U.S. company boards has reached 28.2%.

European companies greatly accelerated the number of women board directors earlier in the decade, often due to legislative mandates.  Among the companies with the Top Ten highest percentages of women board directors in CWDI’s 2019 Report, 11 of the 16 companies are based in Europe, with the remaining 5 based in the U.S.  In prior reports, U.S. companies in this best performers list numbered only 2-3, while French companies dominated the Top Ten with their aggressive implementation of quota laws.

Among the companies with the highest percentages of women directors, six have reached parity with men.  Total S.A., the French oil and gas company, ranks first in the world with the highest percentage of women directors among the Fortune Global 200 companies, with 7 women on a board of 12 or 58.3%. Two US companies have the second and third highest percentages – HP at 55.6% and GM at 54.5%.  They are followed by French-based insurance company AXA, with 53.3% women directors, and two companies with 50-50 gender boards – one from France and one from U.S. – and Electricite de France.

“From 2004 when CWDI conducted its first study of women board directors of the Fortune Global 200 to today, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in women’s appointments to board seats led by European companies due to proactive steps such as quotas intended to accelerate women’s access to board seats,” says CWDI Chair Irene Natividad.  Currently, there are 28 countries with quotas for women directors, and the report shows that companies based in countries with quotas averaged 34.8% women directors compared to 18.4% for companies in countries without legal mandates.

“Quotas work,” says Natividad. “Nothing is as effective for increasing the number of women on boards at a fast pace.  However, many of those quotas and targets have been reached within the deadline designated by each country, so increases will subside.”

At the same time, the largest U.S. companies are now catching up to their European peers, driven by a bottom-up strategy through shareholder votes.  A coalition of state pension funds such as CALSTRS/CALPRS, investment and equity funds brought together by the 30% Coalition have targeted companies without women directors and, as a result, over 200 companies have now added women to their boards.  Also, the investment fund Blackrock has asked CEOs of companies in its portfolio to report on their board composition and their plans to diversify those boards.  These initiatives have been fueled by women’s call for workplace equity, whether through #MeToo, TIME’S UP, women’s marches or the US women’s soccer team’s call for equal pay.

Progress in Europe and the U.S. in women’s board appointments is not reflected in the overall global average of 22.4%.  The reason for this lies in the changed composition of the Fortune Global 200 listing. In 2004, European and U.S. companies dominated this listing, and only 3 companies were based in China.  In 2019, 48 Chinese companies have grown large enough to merit inclusion among the 200 largest in the world, while the Americas and Europe, though still the majority, dropped some companies.  Chinese companies overall have only 8.3% women’s representation on boards, Japan 12.5%, and Korea 4.8%.  Asian companies’ lower percentages consequently drag down the overall global average.

“Change does not happen on its own,” says Natividad.  “National strategies are necessary for the number of women on boards to increase.  Countries are finding different ways to make it happen, but the key is that there has to be political will and a strategy that includes measurable targets.”

About CWDI

Corporate Women Directors International (CWDI), a Washington, DC-based non-profit, promotes the increased participation of women in corporate boards globally and fosters national and international networks to link women directors.  CWDI has issued 29 reports in 21 years and has organized 22 Market Opens in 20 countries’ Stock Exchanges to mark women’s contribution to the economy.  For more information, please see or contact