The Dutch “Diversity Act” became law on 1 January 2022. Listed companies in the Netherlands are now required to achieve at least one-third (33%) male and one-third female representation on their supervisory board. With one-tier boards, the quota only applies to the non-executive board members.
This strict minimum quota applies to all new board appointments. Any new appointment at companies that do not currently meet the one-third minimum female and one-third minimum male levels of representation must contribute to achieving the new mandated quotas when hiring a new supervisory or non-executive director.
In addition, the new law obliges all large Dutch companies (whether listed or not) to adopt appropriate and ambitious target figures for gender diversity of the management board, the supervisory board (unless it already complies), and at sub-board level.
Gender diversity of the supervisory board
In 2020, women accounted for 36% of all non-executive directors in our survey, marking the first time female representation exceeded 30%. The trend has continued into 2022, with the proportion rising to 39%. This is a substantial shift compared to the situation seen a decade ago, when women occupied only 18% of all NED board positions. When chairs are excluded from the sample, women account for 44% of the remaining non-executive directors, up from 42% in 2020.
Five companies among the 50 reviewed have a female chair. Although still a low percentage, this represents a significant increase, given that in 2018 and 2020 only two companies in our survey had a female chair.
This year, four of the companies in our cohort have a female chief executive officer. Only one company (Wolters Kluwer) has both a female CEO and female chair.
Seven companies in 2022 (including one with an all-male board) do not meet the required minimum levels of representation. This represents a drop from the 13 companies recorded in 2020 that would have been non-compliant had the legislation been in force.
Although there has been progression in gender diversity of executive boards, its pace is relatively slow: women hold 17% of all executive board positions, compared to 13% in 2020. When looking at the number of companies that have female representation of more than 33% on their executive board, this percentage has increased from 26% in 2020 to 34% in 2022: out of the 41 companies with an executive board, 14 now have female representation of 33% or more.
Women on boards (% of all directors)
Gender diversity of the executive committee
Since 2018, we have also analysed the composition of executive committees in our sample. This is of interest because, for example, the pool of former executive committee (ExCo) members is the most common source of new non-executive directors for listed companies. We use the term ExCo to denote the senior management team as listed on company websites. Women account for 19% of all positions at this level, the same proportion observed two years ago. However, of the 56 directors appointed to the ExCo in the last 12 months, 32% were women.
Fourteen of the 50 companies in our sample (28%) had a male-only ExCo in 2022, although this does mark an improvement from 2020, when the proportion was 40%.
One further observation is that the difference in levels of ExCo representation of women in AEX versus AMX companies is shrinking. In AEX companies, women now account for 24% of the ExCo population, compared with 22% in AMX companies; in 2020 the proportions were 23% and 16%, respectively.
In 2020, 48% of women ExCo members were foreign, marking a decline from the 57% share recorded in the 2018 survey. However, among the 2022 ExCo cohort, the proportion of female ExCo members who are foreign is once more the majority, again at 57% in 2022.
Companies with a female CEO tend to have a relatively high share of women in leadership roles, as our table shows:
Female CEOs and female representation
||Geraldine Matchett (co-CEO)
Note: Acomo has a unitary board system, and therefore has no executive board
In 2022, 12 out of 41 (30%) relevant companies had female representation of more than 30% at the supervisory board, executive board, and the wider executive committee level.
The Netherlands is not the only country whose ExCos struggle to achieve gender parity: in Belgium, for example, the proportion of women on the ExCo is only 16% in 2022; in the UK the proportion was 24% in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available.
Representation of women across roles
As we have already noted, 32% of new ExCo hires in the preceding 12 months were women. Almost one-fifth of all women on executive committees occupy roles within the HR function. The number of female CFOs rose from four in 2020 to seven in 2022 — however, women still represent only about 14% of the CFO population.
Executive committee positions held by women
If we step back from year-to-year comparisons and look at progress over a decade or so — less than half a generation — the picture is encouraging. Female representation on supervisory boards has risen from 18% in 2012 to 39% in 2022, and, if this trend continues, equal representation of men and woman on supervisory boards will be achieved before the end of the decade.
For several decades now the focus of diversity efforts has been on improving the representation of women on supervisory boards. We envisage that these encouraging results will embed a less challenging context in which to further widen female representation and strengthen diversity overall.
The 2022 data also show that significant efforts need to be directed into boosting female representation among chairs of supervisory boards (currently 10%), among CEOs (5%), and on the ExCo (19%). It’s important to note these areas that need attention are intimately related — board chairs tend to be recruited from the population of former CEOs, and ExCos are the population from which CEOs tend to be recruited.
We expect, however, that female representation at the top of companies will continue to rise, thanks in part to supporting measures such as the Diversity Act now in place. If women are to account for 33% of ExCo positions in the 50 companies surveyed for this Board Index, women will need to fill a further 29 ExCo positions.
In 2020, we analysed ethnic diversity on boards in the Netherlands for the first time. The topic is one of rising importance globally, and the largest Dutch companies are also responding to calls to improve levels of ethnic diversity among their leaderships.
White directors account for 92% of all board members in our sample, compared with 94% in 2020, so there has been a slight increase in ethnically diverse directors during the past two years. Only one director of colour is a Dutch national.
The picture is much the same among executive board directors, where directors of colour account for only 7% of the population. A slightly higher rate of ethnic diversity — about 10% — is seen among the wider executive committee. However, that proportion has changed by less than .5% since 2020.