The Female Board Index for 2019 has been published and it shows some progress in the Netherlands. The share of female directors and supervisory directors at the top of the Dutch business community has increased, the report shows. The share of women on boards of directors of listed companies went from 9 to over 12 percent, and among supervisory directors the share grew from 27 to 30 percent.
‘The increase is relatively strong,’ says the author of the report, professor of Corporate Governance at Tilburg University Mijntje Lückerath-Rovers. ‘It’s been looking better for the last two years, but in the eleven years before that, the number of women on the boards of directors remained the same or even decreased.’
It is probably no accident that the numbers are looking less embarrassing now — affirmative action has been put in place to address the issue. Some four years ago, the dip in the Female Board Index caused upset in the Netherlands, says Floor Rink, professor of Organizational Behavior at the University of Groningen. ‘From an international point of view, we were clearly behind,’ she says. Following discussions, a quota was set for female top executives. In December 2019, Parliament approved the rule that at least 30 percent of supervisory boards must consist of women. Having a quota ‘immediately gives you more diversity, which can be the push a company needs,’ says Rink. ‘Gradually, companies are starting to find it more common and a culture shift is underway. That is what is going on now and what you want a quota to do.’
Naming and shaming
According to Lückerath, it is now increasingly an exception if a company does not have a woman at board level. ‘It is gradually becoming something to be ashamed of,’ she says. Lückerath also cites the positive effects of peer pressure, namely the Instagram account @Directiekamers, run by media critic Madeleijn van den Nieuwenhuizen. The social media account has over 17,000 followers; through it, Van den Nieuwenhuizen shares the make-up of large companies’ boards with a couple of simple slides. ‘I think it has the effect of making the company structure visible, so that applicants and consumers can assess companies,’ says Lückerath. ‘Especially for the new generation, if you don’t show that you are diverse and inclusive, they don’t want to work for you.’
Still, there is a lot of work to do, as the following statistics show.
- So far in 2020, one in four newly appointed directors was female, as was the case in 2019.
- Three quarters of new board positions went to men.
- 54 of 94 listed companies meet the quota.
- Seventy listed companies have no woman on the board of directors. In the past year, a male director was hired at seventeen of these companies.
Top female executives
So what do female board members themselves have to say about this upward trend? At asr, an insurance company based in Utrecht, in shared first place on the Female Board Index, Ingrid de Swart, member of the board of directors since December 2019, says: ‘Do not underestimate the importance of good role models. I was named Top Woman of the Year in 2017. At the time I was still working for another employer and after the announcement we saw 25 percent more female applicants. A woman at the top attracts more women. While my mother had to stop working when she became pregnant, my own daughter sees a mother who holds a board position. She sees and feels no limitation in ambition.’ And Désirée Theyse, CFO at DPA Professionals (60th place on the Female Board Index), simply says: ‘I was not hired because I was a woman. They focused on my abilities and skills. And that’s the way it should be.’
Written by Cathy Leung