Women in corporate boards

Weiwei Kapp

In today’s corporate landscape, the importance of women in corporate boards cannot be overstated. It’s not just about meeting a quota or ticking a box; it’s about driving better corporate governance and, ultimately, making more informed business decisions. Countless studies have shown that companies with more women in corporate boards are financially stronger, more innovative, and boast more robust corporate governance practices (MSCI). 

One study in particular finds that “a critical mass of three or more women can cause a fundamental change in the boardroom and enhance corporate governance” and that “having three or more women on a board can create a critical mass where women are no longer seen as outsiders and are able to influence the content and process of board discussions more substantially.”

Below, we share trend data from the MSCI and other organizations that shows the growth of women in corporate boards over time, how that data differs by region, and more on the benefits of women on corporate boards. Let’s dig in.

Taking a closer look at the global picture, the trends in gender diversity on corporate boards are both encouraging and revealing. 

According to a progress report done by MSCI, both the overall percentage of board seats held by women as well as the number of companies with at least 30% of seats held by women increased across all sectors in 2022. In total, women held 24.5% of all board seats in 2022, up from 22.6% in 2021 (MSCI). 

Women in corporate boards
Source: MSCI ESG Research, November 2022

Source: <a href=”https://www.msci.com/documents/10199/36771346/Women_on_Boards_Progress_Report_2022.pdf/”>MSCI ESG Research, November 2022</a>


In 2022, Europe continued to be the region with the highest percentage of companies that had at least 30% women directors (MSCI). 

In a promise to continue advancement in gender representation, the EU adopted a proposal that requires “at least 40% of non-executive director posts or 33% of all director posts are occupied by the under-represented sex by the end of June 2026” (EuroParl).

According to MSCI, Europe accounted for 15 out of the top 20 company domiciles by female representation on boards. Most of them had mandatory gender diversity quotas, signaling the value of initiatives to improve board gender diversity.

Source: MSCI ESG Research, November 2022

The Middle East

Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait had the highest percentage of companies who had no women on the board, for the third year in a row (MSCI). 

According to companies in the MSCI ACWI Index:

  • Qatar had 0 women directors in 2022
  • Saudi Arabia had 27% of companies with at least one female director in 2022
  • Kuwait had five out of seven companies with no female directors in 2022
Source: MSCI ESG Research, November 2022

Following a 2021 Securities and Commodities Authority decision in the United Arab Emirates that required companies to have at least one female on the board, MSCI found that in 2022, two-thirds of companies domiciled in the U.A.E. were able to meet this target.


Parts of Asia have seen significant movement towards greater gender representation on boards, though they still lag behind other regions.

Over the course of one year, both Japan and South Korea halved their percentage of companies with all-male boards, with Japan going from 15% to 7% and South Korea from 42% to 21% (MSCI). However, there is still much progress to be made. According to the information most recently released by the government in 2021, only 5.2% of South Korea’s corporate boards were female (CNBC).

25% of boards in China have no female representation at all (MSCI).

The United States

The United States is seeing improvement. According to the 2022 U.S. Spencer Stuart Board Index, almost one-third of all S&P 500 directors are women. Female representation among S&P 500 board directors has increased by 86% over the last decade, up to 32% of directors being female in 2022

Furthermore, among S&P 500 boards:

  • 100% have at least one woman director 
  • 98% include two or more women directors (compared with 61% in 2012)
  • 81% have three or more women, up from 72% last year.

The Benefits of Gender-Balanced Boards

Source: Thirdman / Pexels / “Coworkers with Their Hands Together” / Pexels License

The advantages of having more women on corporate boards are not just theoretical; they translate into concrete benefits for businesses. 

A 2019 analysis by McKinsey found that companies with higher gender diversity on executive teams were “25 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than peer companies in the fourth quartile.” McKinsey further states that “the higher the representation, the higher the likelihood of outperformance.” Companies with more than 30% female boards are more likely to outperform boards with 10-30% women, which in turn, are likely to outperform boards with few or no women. This isn’t just a statistic; it’s a testament to the enriching impact of diverse perspectives. 

Innovation is another area where gender diversity shines. In a report by Accenture, the innovation mindset was six times higher in the most equal workplace cultures (measured by 40 specific workplace factors) than the least equal workplaces. Increased innovation is so critical that Accenture calculates “global gross domestic product would increase by up to US$8 trillion by 2028 if innovation mindset in all countries were raised by 10 percent.”

Moreover, enhanced corporate governance is a cornerstone of boards with strong gender diversity. The 2021 Credit Suisse Gender 3000 Report finds that “companies with a greater focus on gender and diversity more broadly tend to perform better in relation to their environmental and governance policies.”

What Can Be Done to Increase Gender Diversity on Boards? 

Bringing about change in the composition of corporate boards is a multi-faceted effort. 

Companies can set clear targets for gender diversity and implement policies that actively support women’s professional growth. As one example, McKinsey put together a preliminary set of best practices to accelerate gender diversity on boards:

Source: McKinsey & Company

Additionally, a report by the International Labor Organization examines the various successes and shortcomings of diversity quotas around the world. The debate surrounding gender quotas for company boards is extensive. 

Advocates contend that quotas serve as an effective tool for enhancing talent distribution within the labor market, especially when deep-rooted discrimination and inequalities have resulted in a significant underrepresentation of women in key decision-making roles. On the other hand, critics argue that affirmative action through quotas may undermine meritocracy and result in less efficient outcomes. 


Gender diversity on corporate boards is not just a buzzword; it’s an essential ingredient for good corporate governance and sound decision-making. Its impact is tangible, from improved financial performance to enhanced innovation and strengthened corporate governance. To further this cause, we have a range of strategies at our disposal, from setting targets and enacting supportive policies to advocating for change at all levels. As we collectively embrace the power of gender diversity, we’re poised for a more inclusive and successful corporate future.

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