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Boards Around the World: A Changing Landscape

March 2024

Our latest edition of Boards Around the World explores how boards of public companies around the world compare on governance measures.

Boards are wrestling with an expanding agenda of complex and challenging topics that need attention. They are under intense scrutiny from stakeholders, who expect boards to be well led and well informed. Having the right people in the boardroom who can work effectively with each other and with management is even more critical to keep pace with the rapid change and significant expectations.

Spencer Stuart has been analyzing global data and trends in board composition, board governance practices, director compensation and performance outcomes for over three decades. Our annual Board Indexes, published in over 20 countries, enables us to measure the difference being made at national, regional and global level, as listed companies adapt to evolving norms in corporate governance.

Here we review some of the highlights from our 2023 data.

Board size: Average board size has changed very little over the years, despite the expanding range of issues boards are having to deal with. Often, these issues call for directors with gravitas and extensive experience; sometimes they lead to board members with specialist expertise being added. Average board size varies between 9-11 with only a few exceptions.

Independence: Independent directors today occupy the majority of listed-company board seats, where once they were in the minority. In half of the countries in our analysis, independent directors account for more than two-thirds of directors. The average tends to be lower in countries where representatives of controlling shareholders have traditionally played an influential role in the boardroom, such as in Japan, Brazil or Turkey. In some governance codes, either a majority or all committee members must be independent, which helps explain the long-term trend towards greater independence.

Level of independence in the boardroom varies









Tenure of directors: In an increasingly complex business environment, multiple disruptive forces are demanding time on the board agenda. Boards need to strike the right balance between highly experienced directors and those who can bring a fresh perspective and insights from current business dynamics. The need for board refreshment is a growing issue in countries like the U.S., where average tenure has declined over the past decade, yet remains among the highest at 7.8 years.

Some countries impose term limits; in the UK, for example, directors are no longer considered independent after nine years and the average tenure is currently among the lowest at 4.2 years. The Corporate Governance Code and Listing Rules in Hong Kong recently created a new category of “long-serving independent non-executive directors (INEDs)" for those who have served more than nine years. No company can comprise entirely long-serving INEDs. The average tenure of directors has decreased from 7.5 to 6.8 years.

3.7 years

Lowest average director tenure

7.8 years

Highest average director tenure

First-time directors: One way in which companies inject diversity and fresh thinking into the boardroom is by recruiting from new candidate pools, often with an eye to bringing in directors with specialized skills in areas such as financial expertise, digital/technology, cybersecurity or an investor perspective. France has overtaken Switzerland as the country with the highest proportion of new directors who have not previously served on a listed-company board (63% of all board appointments). First-time directors are also on the increase in Norway (47%), Denmark (46%) and Ireland (37%), but there are fewer this year in the UK (36%) and the U.S. (34%).

While boards increasingly seek to address multiple dimensions of diversity, many of these are difficult to compare across borders; definitions and disclosure requirements vary greatly, and this compromises statistical consistency. Consequently, here we only focus on gender diversity.

Female new directors: A good indicator of the progress being made towards gender balance is the proportion of women among newly appointed directors. Ireland (67%) and Sweden (65%) lead the pack, and well over half the countries in our sample average at least 45% women among new directors.

Closing the gap: Fifteen out of 22 countries in our sample average at least 30% women on the boards of their largest listed companies, and five countries now average 40% women or more. In every country, the proportion of women on boards has increased since 2022, with the exception of Spain (30%) and Singapore (20%) where the average has remained static.

Women in the boardroom









Boards with at least 40% female directors: Most countries in Europe have either government-backed targets or legal quotas in place to achieve greater gender balance in the boardroom. This is rarely the case outside of Europe. In Europe, many of these targets or quotas have been raised over time, and some are set at 40% women or more. As a result of legal quotas, 95% of the leading companies in France and 80% in Norway now have at least 40% women on their boards. In the UK, 53% of the top 150 FTSE boards have reached that milestone, compared with 21% of S&P 500 boards in the U.S.

Board leadership remains overwhelmingly male: In only five countries in our sample do women occupy 10% or more board chair roles. Italy and the U.S. have the highest percentage of female chairs. Today, women chair 18% of S&P 500 companies compared with 7% only a year ago. There is clear evidence that a growing number of highly experienced female independent directors around the world are taking up board leadership positions as committee chairs and as senior or lead independent directors. Over time we hope that many more of these women will succeed as main board chairs. The picture is no better for CEOs, where only the UK (11%) and Ireland (12%) reach double-digit representation. Addressing the gender imbalance at the senior executive level, let alone CEO, is proving a far slower process than hoped. The diversity of leadership teams more broadly, and succession plans in particular, are subject to increased scrutiny and we know from our work that many organizations are keenly focused on this issue with boards taking a more long-term and nuanced approach to leadership succession and development.

More and more boards are recognizing the benefits of externally facilitated board evaluations, and in some countries the governance code states that a board should undergo an external review at least once every three years. In 2023, 59% of South African boards used an external facilitator. At the other end of the scale, fewer than 10% of boards in Norway, Finland, Switzerland and Hong Kong used an external facilitator for board assessments. Many boards are moving from evaluations to rich discussions about effectiveness, embracing the opportunity to operate as a high-performing but independent team on behalf of the company.

Visit our Boards Around the World website feature to see graphical versions of our global comparisons.

Related Insights

Spencer Stuart has long played an active role in corporate governance by exploring key concerns of boards and innovative solutions to the challenges they face.

An interactive exploration of how boards around the world compare in terms of diversity, composition, compensation and more.

Our Board Indexes provide a comprehensive view of governance practices among leading public corporations in various countries, localities and industries.