Who are sitting on company boards in Finland?

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A while back we wrote a blog post about CEOs of Finnish companies. We looked at their demographic characteristics: age, gender, education, and to some extent also nationality. This week, we do the same for the boards of publicly traded companies in Finland. We ask, who are sitting on company boards in Finland?

This blog post is based on a recent study by Prönö, a platform for company advisory services. You can find the study highlights in English here. There’s also the download link for the complete Finnish-language version of the study.

We also use reports the Women Leaders Program of the Finnish Chamber of Commerce publishes annually. The most recent ones are only in Finnish

Background of studies

Both studies analyzed the composition of the boards of publicly-traded companies in the Helsinki Stock Exchange based on publicly available information. This means, for example, the company web pages. 

Prönö collected data from all the 176 companies listed in the Helsinki Stock Exchange in October 2021. 

In July 2021, the Finnish Chamber of Commerce, in turn, looked at the boards of 128 companies listed in the Helsinki Stock Exchange at the time.

Companies in the Helsinki Stock Exchange can be divided into three size categories based on their market value. 

Large-cap companies have a market value exceeding a billion euros. The Prönö study included 31 such companies while the Finnish Chamber of Commerce study included 30. 

The market value of Small-cap companies is below 150 million euros (55 companies vs. 53). That of Mid-cap companies (47 vs. 45) is between these two figures.

In addition, some companies are on the so-called First North list. Those generally include companies that are smaller and newer. They also follow their own regulations concerning, for example, their statement of accounts. 

In the Prönö study, 41 companies were listed as First North companies. The Chamber of Commerce Study doesn’t seem to include these at all. 

SCAP (Special Purpose Acquisition Company), in turn, is a company established to acquire other companies. They are in the Stock Exchange to gather funding for such acquisitions. There were two of these in the Prönö study and none in the Chamber of Commerce Study.

Both studies were interested in the age and gender composition of these boards. Both studies also compared their 2021 numbers to data from earlier years. 

In the following, we’ll summarize their findings.

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Company boards in Finland in 2021

In October 2021, the 176 companies in the Helsinki Stock Exchange had altogether 1 080 board seats. 

953 individual people sat on these seats. 93 of them had seats on several boards. The person who had the most seats had seats on 7 different boards.

The Chamber of Commerce study does not specify the number of board seats. They just mention the percentage of seats for each characteristic examined.

In the following, we will first look at the gender composition of the boards of publicly-traded companies in Finland in 2021. Then we will move on to examining the age composition of the boards. Finally, we’ll also very briefly talk about the nationalities of the board members. 

Gender composition of company boards in Finland in 2021

The two studies differ a bit in the percentages they assign to men and women on the boards. The Prönö study gives consistently 1-2 points differing percentages from those in the Chamber of Commerce Study. 

Nevertheless, they seem to tell the same story: Women occupied less than a third of all board seats in 2021. Also, larger companies had slightly more women on their boards than smaller ones.  

In 2021, women occupied 27-29 % of company board seats of all publicly-traded companies in the Helsinki Stock Exchange. 

In Large-cap companies, this share was between 32 % (Chamber of Commerce study) and 34 % (the Prönö study). For Mid-cap companies, this figure was between 31 and 33 %. And for Small-cap companies it was 24 % (Chamber of Commerce) – 25 % (Prönö).

A look at trends

As we mentioned in our earlier blog, we know from a government 2020 study that these percentages were pretty much the same also in 2018. Then, a third of board members (34 %) in large companies were women. Again, the percentage was smaller in mid-sized (29 %) and small (24 %) companies.

The Finnish Chamber of Commerce, however, points out that there’s been a steady growth in the share of women board members since 2011 when they started tracking the numbers. 

In 2011, women held 18 % of board positions in publicly traded companies in Finland. As we said, in 2021 they held 27-29 % depending on the study. Thus an increase of ten percentage points. 

Over the years, the share of board seats completely occupied by men has also decreased. In 2007, nearly 50 % of boards only had men members. In 2021, Prönö places this percentage at 11 %. The Chamber of Commerce study places it even lower. 

The Prönö study, however, makes an important point. 

According to it, 48 % of publicly traded companies still had none or only one woman on the board. Thus, the clear reduction from 2007 in the share of boards completely occupied by men paints too rosy a picture. After all, it only takes the addition of one woman to take a company off the list. And still, for each seat held by a woman, there were three seats held by a man in 2021. 

And notably, only 7 % of chairpersons are women. 

Age and gender in company boards in Finland in 2021

Both studies also looked at the age composition of company boards in Finland, but with a different focus. 

The Chamber of Commerce study looked at the ages of women and men separately. The Prönö study instead looked at generational differences. 

The Prönö study concluded that the overwhelming majority of board members were over 40. Only 7 % of all board members were born in the 1980s or 1990s. 

77 % of companies do not have board members of this age group at all. Furthermore, 32 % of companies do not have board members that are under 50. The Prönö study highlights this as a clear diversity issue for boards. 

The Prönö study tells us further that of the under-40 board members, 34 % are women. 

In fact, in all age groups, men dominate women. Most prominently this is the case in the highest age groups (those born before 1950) where all board members are men. Beyond that, the lowest percentage of women in all age groups can be found among those born between 1950 and 1959. Only 14 % of them are women. 

The average age of women board members was 54. For men, it’s 57. 

The Chamber of Commerce the age distribution of men and women separately. 

They found that for both women and men, those 51-60 years of age are the majority. 

For men, the 61-70 year-olds are the next largest group. 

For women, in turn, there is almost the same number of 41-50 and 61-70 year-olds as board members. However, the 41-50 year-olds dominate slightly. 

For men, the under-40 year-olds were the minority. For women, in turn, it was the over 70 year-olds. 

The nationality of members in company boards in Finland in 2021

In our earlier blog, we talked a little bit about the nationalities of CEOs in Finnish companies. The Prönö study gives us more information about the nationalities of board members as well. 

According to them, the clear majority of board members are Finnish nationals (76 %). The next largest groups are members from Sweden (8 %), the United States (3 %), the United Kingdom (2 %), and Norway (2 %). 

A larger proportion of foreign nationals are women (30 %) than of Finnish nationals (27 %). 

Compared to their earlier study, the share of Finnish board members has dropped by 2 %. 

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