More men than women joined boards of Europe’s top financial service firms last year

22/01/2024

The percentage of women appointed to board-level roles at large financial services firms in the European Union fell last year, making it harder for the sector to meet the EU's looming diversity target, according to an EY survey.

 

Female appointments to European financial services boardrooms fell year-on-year in 2023, amid growing demand for C-suite experience with firms risking falling short of the EU’s plans to impose mandatory quotas for women in corporate boardroom.

The European Financial Services Boardroom Monitor showed that 44% of all appointments last year were of women, down from 51% in 2022, with 31% of listed European financial services firms still reporting under 40% female representation on their boards. 

  • Gender split: 44% of European financial services directors appointed in 2023 were female, down from 51% in 2022
  • C-suite experience: 59% of all directors appointed in 2023 brought C-suite experience, but just 38% were female, down from 47% in 2022
  • Female representation: 31% of firms still report under 40% female board representation, with women holding the most senior board positions* at just 29% of firms
  • Most in-demand experience: 36% of all directors appointed in the past year brought political experience to the boardroom, down from 41% in 2022; 27% brought tech experience, up from 22%; and 22% brought ESG / sustainability skills / experience, down from 23%

Appointments of female board directors to Europe’s largest financial services firms declined seven percentage points year-on-year, according to the report, which found reports that 44% of all appointments last year were of women, down from 51% in 2022.

While all European financial services firms monitored have female representation at boardroom level, the current gender split across all firms stands at 57% male and 43% female (down from 58:42 in 2022), and 31% of listed European financial services firms are still reporting under 40% female representation in their boardroom. 

This is below the level required by June 2026 to comply with the European Commission’s European Women on Boards Directive, which requires all companies in EU member states to meet a 40% female target for non-executive boards or 33% for all board members. 

By June 2026, the EU will begin implementing a legally binding 40% quota for women on corporate boards, in what European lawmakers described as a landmark deal for gender equality.

National Quotas so far

Eight EU countries have adopted national mandatory gender quotas for listed companies (Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Portugal, Greece, the Netherlands).Ten have taken a softer approach, using a range of measures and initiatives (Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Spain, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Finland, Sweden).Nine countries have not taken substantial action (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Slovakia).

Gender split of European financial services boardrooms

Gender split of European financial services boardrooms

Appointments of new directors in 2023 by gender

Appointments of new directors in 2023 by gender

The EY Boardroom Monitor charts the profile, experience, training and skillsets of board directors across the MSCI European Financials Index. The data is supplemented with a sentiment survey of 300 European financial services investors, where 82% of respondents state that boardroom gender diversity has a significant influence on their decision to invest.

C-suite experience in demand on European boards

C-suite experience was the top criteria for new board director recruitment in 2023 – for the second year running – with 59% of appointments during the year bringing current or past executive management team experience. However, of directors with c-suite experience appointed this year, just 38% were female, down from 47% in 2022. 

Director appointments in 2023 that bring c-suite experience, by gender

Director appointments in 2023 that bring c-suite experience, by gender
Across European financial services boardrooms, female directors remain significantly less likely than their male counterparts to have the experience of C-suite role or hold a senior board position. Just over half (51%) of female directors have the experience of an executive management team role, while 64% of male directors have similar experience. Across the population of directors tracked, senior board positions (defined under the FCA’s proposed changes to UK Listing Rules (pdf) as Chair, Chief Executive Officer, Senior Independent Director or Chief Financial Officer) are held by women at only 29% of listed European financial firms.

Omar Ali, EY EMEIA Financial Services Managing Partner, said: “Building a diverse board with the requisite experience to steer large financial firms in the current volatile environment is complex. Given this context, the demand for c-suite experience in the recruitment of new directors is understandable and to be expected. It should not, however, come at the cost of better balancing gender representation across Europe’s financial boardrooms and undo much of the excellent progress of the past few years. Recruitment of new board directors should encourage new skills and expertise entering the boardroom. It has been evidenced time and again that boardroom diversity is a driver of outperformance.

“Of course, increasing appointments of female directors with C-suite experience can only take place if there is a strong talent pool and a growing pipeline. Positively, the 40% gender diversity threshold under the European directive should help to galvanise firms' efforts to recognize and nurture female talent throughout career paths – not just towards directorships, but at all levels. The 40% level of female representation at board level is a minimum to build from, not a level to work towards.”

Boardroom skills in demand

Data from the EY Boardroom Monitor shows that 14% of European financial services board directors left their role in 2023, with new appointments lagging departures at 11%.

However, financial services firms have used new appointees to continue to deepen political, technology and sustainability skill sets and experiences on their boards. Of directors appointed in 2023, 36% bring political experience (down from 41% in 2022), 27% have professional experience in tech (up from 22% in 2022), and 22% have professional experience in sustainability or ESG (down from 23% in 2022).

New appointments are still more likely than existing directors to have sustainability, tech and political knowledge and experience. Across all board members, 15% have experience in sustainability, 18% have experience in tech, and 33% have political experience.

In the past year, a greater proportion of female directors have brought experience in tech (33%) and ESG (27%) relative to male peers, 23% of whom have tech experience and 18% have ESG or sustainability experience.

“As global geopolitical dynamics continue to evolve, and technology and sustainability demands on firms grow ever more complex, bringing new skills and breadth of experience to the boardroom is a priority for financial services chairs across Europe," said Mr Ali.


"The need for tech and sustainability experience will only increase from here, but that does not mean there is any less need for directors with more traditional financial services boardroom skills. Structuring a board that is sufficiently broad in scope, but also has the depth and experience to respond to old, new and ongoing market challenges is a delicate balancing act with constantly moving goalposts.”

Quick data overview as at 31 December 2023

  • Total number of firms tracked across Europe: 84
  • Total number of European board directors monitored: 1014
  • Total number of female board directors monitored: 432
  • Total number of male board directors monitored: 582
  • Total number of European board director exits in 2023: 146
  • Total number of new European board directors in 2023: 110
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