Female representation on both non-executive and executive boards of listed Swedish companies increased slightly this year, according to a new study by national pensions buffer fund AP2, continuing the longer-term upward trend and reversing 2020’s backwards step in progress on gender diversity.

AP2 announced that its Female Representation Index (Kvinnoindex) for 2021 showed the proportion of women on the non-executive boards of companies listed on NASDAQ Stockholm stood at 34.5% this year, up from 33.7% in 2020.

The proportion of women on executive management teams at listed firms rose to 26.0% from 24.3%, the SEK386.2bn (€37.8bn) pension fund said, adding that this increase was the largest percentage point increase since the studies began in 2002.

Eva Halvarsson, AP2’s chief executive officer, said: “It is interesting to note once again that nominating committees with women correlate favourably with boards that have a higher proportion of women.”

Boards without nominating committees had a lower proportion of female board members than other companies, she said.

Halvarsson said the increases in the proportion of female non-executives and executive leaders showed Swedish owners and companies were working hard towards a more even gender distribution.

“However, we need to be better at diversity in all its dimensions and I think that this is an issue we need to discuss in a wider context in nominating committees, boards, management teams and in society at large,” she said.

The Gothenburg-based buffer fund said the index, which it reports on every June, showed that over time the trend for women in executive positions had been much more stable than that for non-executives, particularly in the last decade.

However, it also said the long-term trend was clearly positive among non-executive directors too.

Even though the proportion of female non-executive directors rose this year, AP2 said the index showed the ratio of female chairs of boards was unchanged from 2020’s 8.6% – still lower that the record figure of 10.2% in 2019.

On the other hand, this year 12.7% of CEOs at listed companies in Sweden are women according to the new survey, up 2.3 percentage points from last year, AP2 said.

But not counting CEOs, AP2 said women now accounted for 40.7% of non-executive board seats at primary-listed large-cap companies, up from 40.3% in 2020.

The pension fund also reported that newly-elected women on non-executive boards had been shown to be younger than their male counterparts – and that on average female board members held slightly more board assignments than did the men.

“This pattern is unchanged from previous years, although the age difference between newly-elected men and women is greater this year and that both men and women on average have fewer board assignments than before,” it said.

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