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Striving for Balance: The Slow Rise of Women in European Financial Sector Leadership

CAREERSStriving for Balance: The Slow Rise of Women in European Financial Sector Leadership

The number of nominations for women to serve as chairpersons of the boards of Europe’s largest financial services companies has fallen year on year from 51% to 44% in 2023, according to the latest instalment of the EY European Financial Services Boardroom Monitor. The study revealed that one-third of organizations (31%) still have not achieved the gender representation required by the European Commission. This is primarily due to women being underrepresented. According to EU directives, by June 2026 at least 40% of supervisory and management board seats should be occupied by the underrepresented gender.

Despite women’s representation at all levels of management and supervisory boards in monitored European financial services companies, the gender breakdown is not equal. In 2023, the proportions were 57% men versus 43% women (58 and 42% the previous year). Simultaneously, 31% of listed financial entities reported less than 40% female representation in their governance. According to European Commission directives, major publicly traded companies from EU member states should achieve a target of 40% non-executive and executive women directors or 33% on boards by June 2026. Business benefits from achieving this, as EY’s study reveals that 82% of 300 surveyed investors admit that gender diversity on the board significantly affects their investment decision.

Dr. Monika Jezierska, Partner at EY and member of the Leaders of Business Foundation board, notes that the issue of diverse teams, including at the highest executive levels, is being spoken about more widely. Sector reports and analyses confirm that diverse boards drive improved performance and support the organization’s long-term goals. The greater the variety of perspectives and experiences, the better the chances for fresh viewpoints and bold actions, which is crucial for large financial organizations operating in demanding environments.

The expectations for individuals seeking top positions in financial services companies have shifted over the last few years. Management staff should possess not only board experience but also specific skills, crucial for addressing current business challenges. According to the EY report, 27% of all directors appointed to boards in 2023 brought technological skills important for the growth of AI tools, and 22% were experienced with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and sustainable development issues.

Interestingly, women are increasingly qualified in technology (33% compared to 23% of men) and ESG (27% compared to 18%). This demonstrates that women are increasingly aspiring to leadership roles in areas associated with broader transformation. EY’s analysis also shows that these skills are highly desirable for executive candidates and are being developed by them.

The main criterion during the recruitment of new directors of boards in 2023 was – for the second year in a row – having managerial experience in high-level positions. This was a factor in 59% of nominations for the position of managing director, an increase of 12 percentage points compared to 2022. However, for women, this proportion was 38%, a decrease of 9 percentage points compared to 2022.

In European financial services company boards, female directors seldom have experience in C-suite or board-level managerial roles compared to their male counterparts. Just over half (51%) have experience listed on their CV, compared to 64% of men. Also, women occupy highly influential positions (defined as chairman or chairwoman of the supervisory board, president, chairman or chairwoman of the audit committee, or CFO) in only 29% of publicly traded European financial companies surveyed.

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