Measuring diversity in executive boards: good news for gender, less so for age

Published on an annual basis by BSB since 2014, the Executive Board Diversity Barometer presented its latest findings following the 2020 General Assembly. Four main results emerged from the work conducted by researchers from the School’s Finance, Governance and CSR teams:

  • Gender diversity has become a common practice (as many women appointed as men at the 2020 General Assembly)
  • Age diversity is not showing signs of progress (still an average age of 54 and only 10% aged 18-40 and 19% aged 41-50 appointed on councils)
  • An increased network influence on recruitment (new board members from elite schools, have ministerial experience or have several mandates at once – also the case for women)
  • A drop in the number of CEOs among new board members

The study focusses upon French SBF 120-listed companies, representing a pool of 120 corporations obliged to respect the Copé-Zimmermann law pertaining to gender diversity on Executive Boards, which stipulates a minimum percentage of 40% per gender. Board members representing salaried employees are not included within the calculation of the 40% ratio and are therefore not accounted for in the study.

Balanced male-female recruitment

Three years after the implementation of the 40% gender quota, the executive boards of SBF120 French companies have clearly embraced a gender balance policy as part of their recruitment practices: in 2020, almost half of the board members appointed at General Assemblies were women. Whilst the proportion is lower, recruitment of women nevertheless reached 36% for non-French SBF120 companies. The percentage of women on executive boards remains at a solid 45.2%.  

Average board member appointment age remains at 54

Whilst gender diversity has become a norm on executive boards, diversity in terms of age remains limited, with access to boards for members aged 40 or less still very much an exception (10% of those appointed). Female board members are generally younger (an average age of 52, compared to 56 for men) and are less well represented amongst those aged 61 or above.

Increasingly similar male and female profiles

The most defining characteristics among new board members (more than half of those appointed at 2020 general assemblies) are a Management training background (65%), managerial experience (65% directors or executive committee members), international experience (66%), experience in Finance (53%) and experience as a board member in another company (60%). This trend is identifiable in both male and female board members.  

Being a CEO is no longer a necessity

For a long time considered a pre-requisite for becoming a board member, being the big boss (CEO) of a company is now the case for just 43% of new board members in 2020, as opposed to 53% in 2019. Whilst the percentage remains relatively high amongst men, the ratio has dropped amongst female board members. 

An increased influence of networks on recruitment

44% of board members appointed at 2020 general assemblies are graduates of elite schools (vs. 40% in 2019) and 21% have ministerial experience (vs. 18% in 2019). After a drop over the period 2014-17, the figures are on the rise for both women and men. Board member networks are proving to be highly influential with 60% of newly appointed members having had a previous mandate in another listed company. Whilst these networks remain very male-dominated, they have become more accessible to women thanks to the Copé-Zimmermann law, with new female board members now rising in number compared with their male counterparts (63% as opposed to 58% for men). 

You can find more comprehensive information on the latest edition of the Executive Board Diversity Barometer at and in the following article published on The Conversation.

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