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2020 Belgium Spencer Stuart Board Index

2020 Snapshot

 35 %

of all directors are women, in line with other countries

 16 %

of ExCo members are women

 5 %

of companies have a female chair and 3.5% a female CEO

 31 %

of directors are foreign; in the Bel 20 the proportion rises to 43%

 69 %

of the foreign non-executive directors are independent

Women directors

Since 2012, gender quotas of a minimum of 33% female board membership have applied to listed companies in Belgium. Quotas are already in place for state-owned and large listed companies. SMEs had until 2019 to comply, but there are some exemptions relating to revenues and number of employees.

This year all Bel Mid and Bel 20 companies have at least one woman board member, whether executive or non-executive director. Female directors account for 35% of all board directors, a 94% increase since 2014 and a slight increase compared with last year (34%). This proportion is similar to those seen in other European countries (Germany 33%, Italy 35%, Netherlands 36%, UK 34%). Nevertheless, Belgium, along with the four countries just cited, continues to fail to reach the level of gender diversity achieved in France, where 45% of all directors are female.

70% of Bel 20 and Bel Mid boards hit the regulatory 33% female board membership. A greater proportion was seen last year, when 88% of the companies adhered to the quota.

Among the Bel 20, Argenx, Warehouses de Pauw, Barco, Ackermans & van Haaren, and Umicore did not meet the 33% gender quota, with the latter four just slightly below. In the Bel Mid, only 68% of the companies comply with the law, a significant decline from the 87% recorded last year.

Women directors in Bel 20 and Bel Mid companies (%)

Of female board members, 93% are non-executive and 5% are executive directors. The remaining 2% account for chairs and vice chairs, including chairs Hilde Laga, Evelyn du Monceau, and Leen Van den Neste (unchanged from last year). Although their presence represents considerable growth since 2014, when no female chairs were recorded, representation of female chairs continues to lag far behind that of female NEDs. Only 5% of the boards have a female chairman and just 4% of the Bel Mid and Bel 20 companies have female CEOs.

Five female directors were newly appointed to Belgian boards last year (24% of all newly appointed directors); three of them as non-executive directors and two as executive directors. This represents 20% of all newly appointed non-executive directors and 33% of new executive directors.

Our perspective

Belgian companies have considerably increased gender diversity in the boardroom in the wake of quota requirements becoming law, but it is concerning to see that the upward trend we noted last year has either halted or slowed down. Only 70% of the companies reviewed reach the one-third regulatory requirements, which represents poor progress. All companies in our sample do have at least one female board member, but that is scant comfort looking at the wider picture.

Foreign directors

We define foreign directors as having a nationality that differs from that of the company. On this basis, foreign directors in Belgium account for 31% of the total, a slight increase from 30% in 2019. As in last year, three companies in our sample have a foreign nationality (Aperam, Argenx, and ING Groep). The majority of foreign directors are again mainly from European countries, in particular from geographically proximate countries such as France, the UK, Netherlands, and Germany, which account for 57% of all foreign directors. French directors alone make up 32% of all foreign directors, and British directors continue to grow in number to make them the second-largest single European contingent, at 11%. Directors with US nationality account for 14%, again forming the largest cohort of non-European foreign directors. Among those foreign directors, 42% are women, more than the 35% of women in the total.

Origin of non-Belgian nationals — all directors

Across the indices, foreign directors occupy a larger share in the Bel 20, at 43%. In Bel Mid companies, foreign directors comprise 23% of the sample, up from 22% in 2019. On average, three different nationalities are present on Belgian boards, and 31 different countries are represented in our sample. By sector, industrial companies have the greatest share of foreign directors (29%), followed by financial services companies (28%). Eleven chairs are foreign (19% of the sample), among whom about two-thirds are in healthcare or industrial companies.

Of executive directors serving on boards, more than one-quarter are foreign (29%). Among CEOs in both indices, this figure is 30%, compared with 25% in 2019. An even greater proportion of foreign CEOs — 50% — is present in Bel 20 companies.

69% of foreign non-executive directors are independent.

Finally, 52% of new directors are foreign, with eight different nationalities represented, marking a slight decrease from last year’s 56%. 

Women on the executive committee

Women account for almost 16% of all executive committee (ExCo) members in our sample. The Bel Mid companies have a slightly higher percentage (16%) than the Bel 20 (15%), and 3.5% of the CEOs of the combined indices. The proportion of women on the ExCo continues to be very low, especially when compared with the impact of regulatory requirement at board level, where female representation stands at 35%.

Foreign executive committee members

37% of all ExCo members are foreign, rising to 46% in the Bel 20, despite having fallen from the 50% recorded in 2019. In Bel Mid companies, however, the number of foreign members account for only 29%. About 30% of all CEOs are foreign.