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Egon Zehnder Global Board Diversity Tracker Shows Slow and Insufficient Progress — Urging Measurable Action


Egon Zehnder, the world's leadership advisory firm, today released the results of its 2020 Global Board Diversity Tracker. For 16 years biennially, Egon Zehnder has tracked gender and international diversity on boards around the world.

This year’s report analyzed data from 1,685 companies across 44 countries with a combined market capitalization of more than $48 trillion – organizations that have the weight and collective magnitude to drive tangible impact economically, socially and culturally. For the first time in this report, Egon Zehnder expanded its scope to address additional sectors of diversity, offering case studies with directors, chief executives and chairs to discuss the inclusion of ethnicity, sexual orientation and other perspectives in the boardroom.

The results are clear – while there is progress in gender diversity globally, the rate of change is insignificant. Despite increased attention to diversity and inclusion that has sparked conversation and movement, making tangible progress is still challenging.

Another urgent charge, beyond the need to increase the rate of diversity expansion, has emerged – the mandate to rethink the culture and dynamics of boards. To foster active participation from new members, companies must move from only adding or turning over seats to increasing action and output as an inclusive unit.

This is a moment in time. Slow, but steady attention to board diversity combined with this year’s powerful social justice movements means that there is now the will to act. Today, there is attention, alignment and action, giving leaders everything they need to make meaningful decisions to improve the diversity of their boards and their entire organizations. “The recent news on Nasdaq’s new proposal for board requirements is a tangible sign of the increased conversation,” says Pamela Warren, Co-Lead of the Firm’s Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council. “There’s a heightened awareness of the need for change, and a growing frustration with the lack of action.”

Jill Ader, Chairwoman of Egon Zehnder said: “Today, we see attention and acknowledgement that we need more diverse boards; however, diversity spans far beyond gender. It is now more important than ever to move beyond traditional D&I metrics – and prioritize building teams that are representative of all different backgrounds. Board leaders have the power to modernize governance with a few bold steps. Change is within our grasp.”

Key Findings

While progress continues toward gender diversity, the next few years are critical to unlocking the power of diverse thinking:

  • This year, 89% of major companies have at least one woman on their board, up from 85% in 2018. And 18 countries, up from 13 in 2018, have on average three or more women on the boards of their largest companies.
  • 25 countries in our study, including China, Brazil, Germany, and the United States, are still home to large companies with no women on the boards.
  • Eight of the 18 countries averaging three or more women on their boards have quotas or regulations in place requiring the hiring of women. Switzerland is the most recent country to add a quota.

Now it is imperative for boards to expand the value of diversity beyond gender or one ethnic group:

  • As the focus now, appropriately, looks to expand to ethnic and racial diversity, in the United States, for example, Black directors make up just 4.1% of all directors in the Russell 3000 index.
  • In the UK, the Parker Review Committee, a non-profit executive group, set a target for FTSE 100 companies to have at least one non-white corporate director by 2021 and for the FTSE 250 to do the same by 2024. As of early 2020, 37% of the FTSE 100 companies reporting results did not have such representation on their boards, and just 54% of FTSE 250 companies had reached that goal.
  • In 70 countries, being openly LGBTQ+ remains illegal. Even in the U.S., where many protections have been implemented for LGBTQ+ individuals, just 24 of the more than 5,000 board seats in the Fortune 500 index are openly LGBTQ+, according to Out Leadership. Of that tiny number, only two are people of color, and zero are women of color.

Positive change requires that women and other underrepresented candidates serve as leaders, not merely participants, on boards. Women representatives have a multiplier effect with the ability to help diverse candidates succeed and boost diversity through their own networks:

  • Women now make up 27.3% of all board committee leaders globally, up from 25.5% in 2018.
  • However, women comprise just 2.1% of all board chairs, up from 1.5% in 2018.
  • Globally, new board appointments made up 13.5% of all board positions in 2020, up from 11.4% in 2018. Of that number, 30% were women, up from 27% in 2018. In reality, this means that only 4% of all directors are women new to the board, only a 0.9% increase from 2018.

Action Plan

Egon Zehnder believes there are several long-term and short-term actions to take in order to successfully make a difference in terms of diversity:

  • Champion change from the top –instead of shaming executives, it’s important to transform criticism into an opportunity to learn new behaviors.
  • Inclusion matters – diversity promotes exchange, even disagreement, and therefore encourages new ways of thought.
  • Power through numbers – minority voices go unheard when a dominant majority remains.
  • Pick for potential – curiosity, engagement, insight, and determination are key leadership traits.
  • Expand the network – look beyond close connections and intentionally expand networks to include people who bring different perspectives and experiences.
  • Build the pipeline for others – hold the CEO accountable to diversity commitments to ensure sustainability of intent.
  • Ride the wave – take advantage of the current conversation to learn from new perspectives.

You can view the report’s full recommendations and findings, create a custom report based on a variety of metrics—including sector and country— and view the video case studies at


The report includes in-depth perspectives from a multitude of executives.

Key executive quotes from the report include:

“You need to be representative of the communities you serve. The tragic killing of George Floyd really ignited a spark for greater racial equity.” – Kathleen Taylor, Chair, Royal Bank of Canada

“I think we need to acknowledge that the conversation we are having today should have happened 20, 30, 40 years ago. Shame on us that it did not happen then, but now we have the opportunity to drive the necessary changes going forward. We have an obligation to create a better world for our employees, for our companies, for our kids.” – Enrique Lores, CEO, HP Inc.

“When people come to work, they need to feel like they have a chance for advancement. If they don’t see themselves in middle management and upper management of a company, and if they don’t see it on the board, they struggle to feel they belong.” – Jim Fitterling, CEO and Chair, Dow Inc.

“When you’re asked to serve on a board, as a Latina, or a Latino, it is for a reason. Help them understand the market. Help them understand the power and potential. Help them think about how to develop products for the marketplace that speak in a genuine and relevant way to our community.” – Monica Lozano, Director, Target, Bank of America

“I always felt if I was given the privilege to lead people that part of the challenge was creating the conditions for everyone to contribute to the best of their ability. It is very difficult to optimize contributions to a business if you cannot bring your whole self to work.” – Robert Hanson, EVP and President, Wine and Spirits Division, Constellation Brands

“We wouldn’t be able to . . . in three to four years move from a Brazilian company, with one brand and one market, to become a global, multi-brand, multichannel organization if not for a strong conviction that we needed to bring different competencies and capabilities and to be more diverse and inclusive in our approach.” – Roberto Marques, Chair and CEO, Natura & Co.

“What diversity promotes is disagreement. When you are making a business decision, the worst thing and biggest waste of time is if you sit at the table and everybody agrees. When I think about more women on a board sparking that discussion and breaking that social cohesion, that’s very important.” – Nadia Shouraboura, Director, X5, Blue Yonder, Ferguson plc, MTS Group


About Egon Zehnder

Egon Zehnder is the world’s preeminent leadership consulting firm, sharing one goal: to help people and organizations transform. We know what great leaders can do and are passionate about delivering the best solutions for our clients.

Our more than 500 Consultants in 68 offices and 40 countries form one powerful, collaborative team. Our services include: leadership development, individual, team and organizational effectiveness, CEO search and succession, executive search and assessment, Board advisory, and cultural transformation.

For more information, visit and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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