SWEDEN - Although the proportion of women on company boards has increased to 22.2%, the number of females holding executive positions in publicly quoted companies has declined, according to research from the Second Swedish National Pension Fund (AP2).

The latest results of AP2 and Nordic Investor Services' annual survey on the proportion of women at mid-management level and on the executives and boards of publicly quoted companies, showed large-cap companies and industries with a high number of female employees had the highest levels of female representation.

The findings noted the service and consumer goods sector had most females on their boards, while healthcare and financial sector companies employed the highest number of female executives.

Yet while female representation on company boards reached 22.2%, up from 19.1% the previous year, the positive trend since 2005 of more women executives appears to have ended as numbers declined from 14.3% to 13.8%.

As a result, AP2 noted the disparity in the proportion of female representation between boards and executive positions had increased over the last year from 4.8% to 8.4%.

Eva Halvarsson, chief executive of AP2, said the findings showed efforts to increase female representation at higher management levels had had an impact, but she admitted it was "slightly worrying" there had been a decline in the proportion of women in executive positions this year, given that this represents a "crucial source in the recruitment of representatives to company boards".

The study also suggested that, over the last 30 years, more women are graduating in disciplines where executives and board members are traditionally recruited, with the proportion increasing from less than 20% in the 1980s to more than 40% now.

Although the report noted the number of women being recruited declines in stages from a one in three chance of making it from new graduate to employee status to a one in seven chance to reaching a senior executive level.  

Halvarsson added: "A more equitable balance with respect to gender is decisive in ensuring the effective composition of a board.

"At the same time, it is important that we, as shareholders, should also pursue the issue of increased diversity in terms of age, background, experience and competence."