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The global growth rate of women on boards is gradually recovering, except in the US

The US growth rate of women on boards has declined since 2020

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London City workers walk across London bridge.
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The number of women on boards around the world has gradually recovered since 2020, according to a new report by Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI). The only exception? The US. 

The Covid-19 pandemic had a deep impact on women in the workforce around the world. One in four women in the US, for instance, became unemployed due to childcare needs. The slowing of numbers in the US also suggests companies shifted priorities due to the pandemic and economy.

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Since the pandemic began to subside and many women began returning to work, there has been a 1.9% year-on-year increase globally in the number of women serving on boards, according to the MSCI report. The study also found that the percentage of director seats held by women globally continued to increase, from 22.6% in 2021 to 24.5% in 2022. The percentage of the world’s companies with at least 30% of their boards made up of women also increased to 38% in 2022, compared to 33% the previous year.

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Where women on boards is increasing and decreasing

While the global growth rate is trending in a slow but positive direction, the story in the US has been different.

Though director seats held by women at US companies surpassed 30%, the rate of increase has declined over the past three years, from 2% in 2020 to 1.5% in 2022.

By stark contrast, companies in countries like Denmark and Germany have seen a spike in growth. Danish companies saw the highest increases in women on boards, from 35% of board seats held by women in 2021 to 42.4% in 2022.

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Companies in Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, have consistently had the lowest percentages of women on boards over the same time period. But Saudi Arabia saw an increase from 2.2% to 3.5% in 2022, while Qatar remained the same. Data for Kuwait is incomplete.

The health care sector saw the most women on boards in 2022. The total percentage of director positions held by women globally in health care was 27.3%. Of those companies, 45.4% of them had at least 30% of their director seats held by women.

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Most European countries have mandatory gender quotas, which partly explains why companies based in Europe ranked in the top 15 in terms of the number of women serving on boards. Efforts for inclusion through these policies show that they are helping to improve board gender diversity. But a lot more can be done to increase the growth rate of women — and especially women of color — on boards. Only half of US companies disclosed racial and ethnic board diversity data. But that data revealed that only 14% of them had at least 30% of their directors coming from racial or ethnic minorities.