Women at the top of seafood management – modest improvementPercentages of female board members by industry

For the third year in a row, the International Association for Women in the Seafood Industry (WSI), has taken stock of positions occupied by women in seafood industry leadership.

WSI has checked the gender composition of the boards of the top hundred seafood companies around the world, to conclude that the proportion of women in exec and non-exec top management positions is the highest recorded to date. On the other hand, that all-time high figure is just 14%.

“Based on world’s hundred largest seafood companies, women are in the top CEO positions in just 4% cases. Companies run by women include US companies Bumble Bee Foods and American Seafoods Group, Marusen Chiyoda Suisan in Japan and Vinh Hoan in Vietnam,” commented WSI president Marie Christine Monfort.

“In contrast, here’s how the seafood industry compares with other industries. Mining industry 4%, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) 3% and Oil & Gas 1%.”

She said that more than a third of the companies analysed, more than a third (28 out of 80) have an exclusively male board of directors and none of the top hundred companies has a wholly female board.

“Only 5% of the companies (4 out of 80) have more than 40% women. The only instance with more than 50% women holding top management position is Vinh Hoan, in  Vietnam. Vinh Hoan is run by a female CEO assisted by ten women and two men,” she said.

Across 80 companies, comprising of 1042 board directors, are only 150 women, just 14.4%. This reflects progress compared to 2016 when analysis of 71 companies showed a rate of 9.1%. The percentage of companies with lower than 20% female representation on the board has declined from 81% in 2016 to 64% in 2019.

“That said, there seems to be a remarkable resistance in equality between men and women. No more than 5% companies recorded over 40% women in boards, exactly the same ratio as 2019. If we focus on executive positions, the rate of women sadly drops to 9%,” she said.

“Vietnamese seafood company Vinh Hoan is the only shining light with a greater than 50% women representation at management positions. It is run by Ms. Nguyen Ngo Vi Tam, with by ten women and two men in the board of directors.”

Vinh Hoan with its 83% female board is far ahead of its nearest counterparts, Zhanjiang Guolian Aquatic Products in China, Austevoll Seafood in Norway, US company Bumble Bee Foods, Salmar in Norway, Labeyrie Fine Foods in France, Sanford in New Zealand, Sirena Group in Denmark, Grief Seafood in Norway and Zoneco Group in China, all of which have boards with a female presence of between 32 and 47%.

“It’s interesting that the percentage of women in executive boards varies based on the total number of board directors per country. Japan, for instance, has 18 companies that are part of the top list, among them there are 381 board members, but only 18 are women, i.e. 5%. In the case of Chile, out of a total of 99 board members only 8 are women, i.e. 8%. In both countries, it’s likely that existing corporate cultures rooted in traditional cultural norms have made it difficult to incorporate women in top positions,” Marie Christine Monfort said.

“Norway, the first country to introduce a gender quota on boards (2003) has seen the participation of women dropping from 31% to 27%. Vietnam offers an astounding picture but only two companies are included in the sample.”

Norway leads the way

She commented that in many regards, Norway leads the way in gender equality in the professional sphere.  With a mandatory quota law introduced in 2003, the boards of its public companies must have at least 40% female non-executive directors. The private limited companies in WSI’s sample fully comply with the law.

“But what about the conspicuous unbalance in executive boards where there are no regulatory constraints? In our sample of top seafood companies, the executive boards are far less gender balanced and not a company has chosen a woman for CEO. Is the sector failing to attract women or is it the result of a gender bias of the selection? Linda Hofstad Helleland, when Norway’s minister for children and equality explained: ‘three-quarters of recruitment is down to informal networks: Men recruit men. Men recruit CEOs that look like themselves. We need to challenge these attitudes.’”

According to WSI, these preliminary results indicate that compared to 2016 results, 2020 shows a slightly progressive landscape in terms of gender diversity in top positions in seafood corporates.

“But we are far from being gender equal on corporate boards, with only 5% companies having >40% female representation,” she said.

“These results also call for further research digging into the capital structure and sources. Many companies for instance are family companies; therefore, integration of women in top positions is a matter of kinship and not necessarily one of merit. The topic of corporate cultures deserves to be further explored to better understand the barriers and opportunities that women experience to access top positions,” Marie Christine Monfort said.

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