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Europe Beats U.S. Naming Women to Bank Boards
added: 2012-05-24

Women now account for 21.7% of directors serving on the Boards of the largest banks in Europe, a region whose companies are remaking corporate leadership in the midst of the worst debt crisis in decades and a global recession, according to the latest Corporate Women Directors International study about the power behind the world's largest banks and financial services companies.

The European percentage eclipses other regions handily, with financial institutions in the Americas averaging 16.7% and those in Asia-Pacific at only 10.9%. "Risky practices by U.S. banks and financial services companies triggered this economic crisis, so the question of who's in charge matters, especially in the wake of JP Morgan's recent $2 billion loss due to speculative trading," states Irene Natividad, chair of the Washington-based research group.

In the latest study, CWDI examined the board of directors of the largest banks or financial services institutions in the world – 93 - as ranked within the 2011 Financial Times Global 500 listing. It found women directors at these institutions averaged 15.6%, a mild increase from its 2005 survey when women held 10.3% of bank directors seats. The numbers aren't good enough, the study states, since at the current pace, women will not have parity with men in these large financial institutions until the year 2047.

European companies dominate the CWDI Report's Top Ten list of financial institutions with the highest percentage of women directors. France is the only country with three companies among the Top Ten – BNP Paribas, Societe Generale and Credit Agricole. Coming in first is Australia's Westpac Bank with 44.4% of board seats held by women (4 out of 9). The Australian Stock Exchange now requires its member companies to report on gender diversity in their leadership and work force.

"Progress in Europe and Australia was possible due to proactive steps taken to increase women's access to board seats," according to Natividad. Quota laws for women in 11 countries have boosted the numbers of female board directors to new levels. Financial Institutions in countries with quotas averaged a higher percentage of female directors – 20.4% than the 15.6% industry average.

In addition, a number of European countries have included gender diversity in their corporate governance codes. Again, those companies based in countries with such language in their country's rules for good governance had more women directors – 23.9% - on their boards.

Another boost to the numbers came from banks headed by women (Westpac, Bank of Montreal, ICICI and SEB), whose boards almost doubled the percentage of female directors at 31% than their peer companies as well as the percentage of female senior officers at 23.6%. These results echoed a 2011 CWDI study on women CEOs – women-led companies globally tend to have more women on their boards and in senior management.

With few exceptions, U.S. banks and financial services companies are not pacesetters in appointing women to boards. Wells Fargo and VISA are industry leaders, but the majority are trailing behind the European banks. The lagging U.S. performance is surprising given the prevalence of women workers in the banking industry – 65% and 55% of its managers, the report said.

Despite the low industry average for women on boards, a large number of companies – 86% - have at least one female director. One third of the financial institutions studied went beyond tokenism and now have three or more women on their board, it said.

Source: PR Newswire

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