Asian firms failing to get women on boards

Just one in eight seats on the boards of Asia’s largest firms are held by women

Women account for just 12.4 percent of board seats across 1,557 of the largest firms, by market value, across 20 Asian countries.

That’s according to a new study from Washington-based research group Corporate Women Directors International (CWDI), reported in the Financial Times. It notes that Asia-Pacific lags behind both Europe – where women hold 30 percent of board seats at the top 500 companies – and North America, where just over a fifth of board members at the 500 largest public companies are women. In Africa, CWDI says women hold just 14.4 percent of board seats at the 300 largest listed companies.

‘While there is global momentum – largely driven by Europe – to increase the presence of women board directors globally, Asia-Pacific companies are being left behind in moving women into corporate leadership roles,’ says Irene Natividad, CWDI chair, in the FT.

‘The irony is that this region has a wealth of highly educated women, many with strong business experience, who were equal contributors to the region’s explosive economic growth.’ 

While the overall figure for Asia-Pacific as a whole are disappointing, there are wide regional differences. For example, the report shows that in Australia, women hold 27.2 percent of board seats at the 100 largest public companies, and in New Zealand they hold 19.3 percent. This contrasts starkly with South Korea, where just 14 out of the country’s largest 100 firms have any female directors. 

The paper also points out that of the 20 countries in the survey, only eight have strategies in place to increase the number of female directors.

The report was released at the 2017 Global Summit of Women in Tokyo on Friday, where prime minister Shinzo Abe received the Global Women’s Leadership award for his drive – now in its fourth year – to get more women into leadership roles to boost Japan’s economy. 

His ‘womenomics’ campaign originally aimed for 30 percent of the country’s management positions to be held by women by 2020 but that has since been scaled back to a goal of 10 percent. Currently, the FT reports that the share of women executives at listed Japanese companies stands at just 3.4 percent, though that has grown from 1.8 percent in 2013 when Abe became prime minister.

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