Top European Countries For Women Executives

“All people are created equal.”

– Thomas Jefferson

Although everyone may have been created equal, not all countries are equal in gender – especially in the workplace. But are things changing?

A recent study carried out by a global gender consulting firm found that there are at least a few reasons for women to be cheerful and optimistic about the future, particularly those of us who would like a top executive role.

According to the study, two continents in particular are waking up to the need for progress in the gender imbalance in business: North America and Europe.

In the U.S., more than half of the biggest corporations now have at least 2 women working on their exec committees, while 8 of the biggest – including General Motors and Pepsi – have female CEOs.

Overall, though, the picture continues to be bleak: In 2016, men still held onto 83% of the exec roles at top U.S. companies.

Women, on the other hand, account for mainly staff and line roles.

But What is the Situation Like in Europe?

The situation in Europe is slightly less promising than the one in North America. There, men are clinging onto almost 90% of the top exec committee roles, which leaves women making up the remaining staff and line duties.

But there are reasons to be cheerful and there are signs that Europe is picking up – unlike Asia, which is still slumbering. Here, men account for 96% of the top roles.

Let’s take a look at the European countries that are addressing the gender imbalance at the top.

France, The Land Of The … Free?

France has the third largest economy in Europe, and the sixth biggest in the world.

Despite this, things have not been so rosy inside some of their biggest companies for a while. In 2015, The Economist reported major shake-ups at some of their largest firms, with familiar bosses coming and going as though through a revolving door.

Coupled with France’s progressive ideas on getting more and more women into senior exec roles, was this the catalyst for change in gender imbalance in the workplace?

It may have been a contributing factor. In 2015, France introduced quotas that called for a minimum of 40% of women to work on corporate boards.

This is in line with a statistic from US News that 40% of people who make up MBA programs are women.

Out of 20 French companies analyzed by Harvard, France Telecom, SNCF, CNP Assurances and Group BPCE are doing more than most at working on the gender divide.

The UK, The Land Of Milk & Honey

France is doing something to address gender imbalance in top-ranking positions, but the UK – is working even harder.

Although less than 10% of exec directors at UK top companies are women, there are more female CEO’s here than anywhere else in Europe, while Britain also shames the U.S., where women account for 4% of CEOs at listed companies.

There has definitely been solid progress in Britain when it comes to female representation in their boardrooms, and in 2016 women account for around 30% of non-exec roles at FTSE 100 companies.

But critics continue to argue that the UK is still moving too slowly and not making enough progress.

Less than 1 in 10 executive directors at FTSA 100 organizations are women. This number is up by 5.5% on the 2011 figure, but progress in the FTS 250 index is even slower, with then number up by 5.2%.

Switzerland, a Small Country Striving to Reach Equality Goals

The small size of Switzerland makes for some interesting comparisons with the rest of Europe. With only 15% of board members or directors and as little as 9% of executive positions being filled by women, Switzerland still has some work to do. Schools such as IMD in Lausanne, are trying to help by offering women scholarships, such as the Nestle MBA Scholarship for women.

According to Swiss Info, progress in the task of increasing women’s representation in top executive jobs and boards has been slow. In 2005, 4% of top executive jobs were held by women, and that number only increased by 5% in 10 years until 2015.

Boards have also been a bit unwilling to adjust, and a rise of 5% more women has been seen between 2009 and 2015 to the currently recorded 15%.

What’s being done to help solve the imbalance? According to Reuters, Swiss government officials are considering adopting a measure to impose a quota of all boards being required to have at least 30% female members.

One Swiss canton, Basel City, has taken the newly proposed board gender requirements into effect with great results. In Basel City, at least 33% of board members must be female as of 2017-2021. 115 female board members were hired or appointed to fill open positions, as a lot of companies have taken the legislation seriously.

Germany … Still Not Easy For A Working Fräulein

Germany is doing well to resist the EU quota legislation which demands there be more women executives.

But it’s resisting it at the expense of women who feel they deserve to get ahead.

In 2014, Germany increased its number of women executives at big companies by 9%, but disappointingly dropped down to just 7% in 2015.

Altogether, there are 135 executive committee members in Germany’s biggest companies, but according to an article in Harvard Business Review just 10 of them are women.

This means women make up less than 10% of the nations’ exec committee members at top organizations.

More alarmingly, half of the country’s top businesses don’t have a single woman on their top teams. And the ones that did are not doing enough to keep hold of them.

And Elsewhere in Europe?

Other European countries are working hard to fix the gender imbalance in the workplace. Sweden is second to the UK when it comes to the number of female CEOs at listed companies, though Norway doesn’t have even one female chief exec at any of its biggest organizations.

Michael Reyner from MWM summed up the current situation quite well: “The UK is doing better than most other leading economies in appointing women to the top jobs. But much more needs to be done by companies to improve the pipeline of senior women. This requires a strong commitment from boards and chief executives, more supportive and less male-centric working practices, and cultural change to tackle unconscious bias.”

Gretchen is an author, blogger and entrepreneur. You can follow her on Twitter: @shawgret



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