In many countries, women are well established in professions like medicine, law and banking. They’ve advanced to the top of prominent companies, including General Motors, GlaxoSmithKline, Pepsico and IBM. Yet a gap remains when it comes to corporate boards. Men hold about 80 percent of all board seats for companies in the S&P 500 stock index. Growth in female representation on those boards has slowed. European countries have instituted formal mandates, sometimes backed by fines, to narrow a similar corporate-board gender gap. Then there’s Asia, where women held only 12 percent of seats in 2016.
Legal directives raised female representation on corporate boards in large, publicly listed companies in the European Union to 23.3 percent in 2016 from 11.9 percent in 2010. In the U.S., the pace at which women were added to Fortune 500 boards slowed to about 2 percent yearly after a decade of 5 percent annual growth ended in 2005. In the U.K. and Finland, public shaming by advocacy groups has stirred some shareholders to urge change. Elsewhere, in the absence of legal or activist pressure, the makeup of boards has hardly changed. The U.S. tech sector, notable for the rise of Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook Inc. and Ginni Rometty at IBM Corp., is lagging: One-quarter of Silicon Valley companies had no female directors when surveyed in 2016.