Heidrick & Struggles: Appointments of Women to Boards Hits Record High

Heidrick & Struggles released its latest Board Monitor report, which found that women filled more than 38% of all independent board seats in Fortune 500 companies in 2017, a dramatic rise from the previous year’s 28% in 2016.

This is the largest percentage of women among new directors since the data was first tracked in 2009, up from 27.8% in 2016.

Extrapolating data for 2017 using a three-year trailing average method, Heidrick & Struggles projects parity with men in new director appointments by 2025.

Despite improvement in appointments for women, there has been only slight improvement in gender composition on boards overall, with the overall percentage of women on Fortune 500 boards having risen only to 22.2% in 2017, up 1.2 percentage points from the previous year. This data indicates that most new female director appointees were replacing other women who had left their board roles. 

Other key findings of the study include:

  • Nearly 36% of new board appointees in 2017 had no previous board experience. This is up sharply from 25% in 2016, which is at least partly in response to pressure in recent years to bring new perspective to boards.
  • Boards are also beginning to look beyond their traditional first choice of CEOs to fill vacant seats. Current and former CEOs accounted for 47% of director appointments in 2017, down from 50% in 2016, 54.4% in 2015, and well below the high of nearly 55% in 2013.
  • The share of new board appointments that went to African-Americans rose from 9% to 11%, the highest ever. Some 33% of all African-American appointees went to industrial boards, the same as last year; 23% went to consumer boards, and 21% to financial services boards. These gains may be driven by the overall awareness of the value and need for diversity on boards.

Read the full report

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