Women on boards flourish in the West but Asia still lagging

Male-dominated boards still the norm in countries like Japan, Hong Kong and China


Cristian Angeloni

Women are slowly but steadily getting greater representation on company boards, but the goalposts keep shifting, recent findings from the MSCI All Country World Index (ACWI) show.

In 2018, 17.9% of directorships were held by women, compared to 17.3% in 2017, showing a 3.4% increase world-wide.

The MSCI now predicts that female representation on boards could reach 30% by 2029, two years later than it predicted in 2015.

“Although overall progress towards reaching gender equality at the board and senior leadership levels has been slow, in 2018, there are still signs that there are significant shifts underway in many markets” the MSCI report concluded.


Numbers, however, change drastically when looking at specific regions and countries. The West continues to dominates when it comes to companies whose boards had three or more female directors.

In the developed market index, women held 21.6% of directorships (up from 20.4% in 2017), while their counterparts in the emerging market index held 11.2% of the same positions (up from 10.2% in 2017).

A fifth of the 2,694 companies in the ACWI had men-only boards.

Only 11 companies had a female majority(up from seven in 2017) and 32 had 50% female representation (compared with 21 in 2017).

When taken as a proportion of all companies across the ACWI, this means that only 0.4% had a female majority and just 1.2% had an equal gender split on their boards.

In the financial sector

Companies in the financial sector are leading the way in terms of boards with a female majority. Even though Taiwan scored poorly as a country, Taipei-based financial company First Financial topped the list with nine female directors (69.2% of its board).

Australia’s Medibank, a health insurance provider, followed suit placing third with 60% of its board (six members) being women.

Furthermore, the financial sector led the way as the industry with the greatest number of companies with three or more women on boards, counting 187 (41.4%) companies among those on the index.

Geographical concentration

Norway, France and Italy lead the way for female representation as 100% of their companies present in the ACWI have three or more women on their boards.

However, things change when looking at geographical distribution with the US (30.4%), UK (8.4%), France (8.3%) and Canada (6.6%) being the countries with the highest concentration of companies with three or more women on their boards. In addition, the four countries accounted for over half of the total number of women’s board seats.

Male domination

The situation in Asia is quite the opposite to the West, according to MSCI.

Of the 21.3% of ACWI companies across the world that had all-male boards, the majority were based in Japan (25.3%), China (21.3%), South Korea (15.9%), Taiwan (5.9%) and Hong Kong (5.2%).

However, the global financial sector showed greater diversity, with only 16.6% of financial companies having no female representation on their boards.

– This article first appeared on ESG Clarity‘s sister site International Adviser.

Latest Stories