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How Gender Equality On U.S. Boards Compares To The Rest Of The World

The best place for women on boards? Norway. The worst? Japan. A look at what countries around the world are doing to close the gap.

How Gender Equality On U.S. Boards Compares To The Rest Of The World
[Photo: Flickr user Oskar Annermarken]

A new study from nonprofit research organization Catalyst visualizes the disparity of genders on S&P 500 company boards around the world.

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Women hold 35.5% of the seats at Norway’s stock index companies, the highest number of the 20 countries reported. Finland, France and Sweden follow in a close second, each circling 29%-30%. The U.S. falls at the average, with 19.2%, while Japan’s 3% takes last place.

Many countries encourage increased diversity on legislative, voluntary and regulatory boards through standards of compliance: At the very least, companies have to explain themselves if they miss the goals for parity. Fines, ineligibility for government contracts or grants, and loss of office follow. In November, Germany introduced a draft law to allocate 30% of seats on non-executive boards to women beginning this year, following Norway’s 2003 gender-quota lead and strengthening Sweden’s efforts for the same.

In the U.S., no diversity quotas exist for legislative boards, but voluntary boards must meet 20% of the underrepresented gender by 2020, and report on how diversity policy is implemented on regulatory boards. And companies are taking these numbers into their own hands–such as Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s announcement last week of a $300 million pledge to help improve diversity in Silicon Valley. But is throwing money at a problem–or imposing finaicial consequences–a sustainable solution?

Accountability is a good start, says Shellye Archambeau, tech industry veteran and CEO of MetricStream. “It almost doesn’t matter if it’s $200 million or $400 million,” she told Fast Company. “By putting a specific target that they’re trying to achieve, by putting money behind it, it’s going to make them hold themselves accountable to make some changes. I hope others will follow their lead.”

The Catalyst report shows both progress, and a long way to go. The number of companies without any women on their boards dropped from 25 last year to 18 currently, the Wall Street Journal reports–slow improvement, but tangible evidence that the increased awareness of gender issues is working.

“What’s giving me enthusiasm is what’s going on on the ground,” Alex Johnston, Catalyst Canada’s executive director, told Bloomberg. “People are saying there’s a momentum shift.”

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About the author

Freelance tech, science and culture writer. Find Sam on the Internet: @samleecole.

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