Need Proof That Companies Can Have Gender Diverse Boards? Look to France
A group called European Women on Boards last week released its first-ever gender diversity index and came to this conclusion: France, far and away, has by its measure the highest share of women on company boards at 44.2%.
The index assessed gender representation at the 200 largest European listed companies in nine nations—Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the U.K—in an effort to identify best practices. Of the 30 French companies covered in the study, 28 had boards that were at least ⅓ female.
In addition to singling out nations’ overall progress on gender diversity, the report highlighted stand-out companies:
- France’s Kering, parent of luxury brands like Gucci and Alexander McQueen, was named as the top company for board diversity overall, with women making up 60% of its directors.
- French hospitality group Sodexo, meanwhile, was recognized for having the highest board diversity—it’s 53.8% female—among firms with a female chair.
- Pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline has the highest board diversity at 45.5% among companies with a woman CEO; it’s led by Emma Walmsley.
France’s high share of female directors follows its 2011 decision to mandate that women make up at least 40% of all CAC 40 boards by the end of 2017. In fact, the top three countries on this list have passed quotas requiring certain levels of gender diversity on boards.
At Fortune’s Most Powerful Women International Summit in London in June, Sodexo’s chair Sophie Bellon voiced her support for legal mechanisms that force companies to address board diversity because she abides by the belief that “what gets measured gets done.”
“When you want a company to improve sales or profitability, you just give an objective and everyone is aligned,” she said. Board diversity is just as important a topic, so it’s worth approaching in the same way, she said.
Bellon said the company had learned about improving gender balance from the U.S., since discussions about the benefits of diversity started sooner there than in Europe. But France has since leapfrogged the U.S. in share of women directors. And now the U.S. is taking its turn mimicking the European nation, as California just became the first state with a board diversity mandate.