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Christina Milhomem

Christina Milhomem

Senior Associate, MSCI Research

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Has DEI Worked for Women?

  • MSCI ACWI Index constituents with comprehensive diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs had, on average, better board-level gender diversity but fewer women in CEO or CFO roles or in their general workforces.
  • Whether companies with DEI programs have been focused on adding more women to their boards of directors or are yet to walk the talk, the result is that women remain underrepresented at most firms, especially in the C-suite.
  • We found significant gaps in diversity-data disclosure across all companies we examined, hindering investors’ ability to fully assess many companies’ gender diversity at all levels.

As pressure to improve diversity mounts,1 many companies are creating a range of DEI programs aimed at improving representation of different demographic groups. While these can help establish frameworks and goals, it’s less clear whether they actually have improved gender diversity in companies and in the C-suite, though we saw improved gender representation on corporate boards.

Across the general workforce, and also executive management, even the most comprehensive DEI programs appear to have had little impact. In fact, companies with comprehensive DEI programs have tended to have fewer women across the general workforce and in CEO and CFO roles. This result was true across all three universes we considered: constituents of the MSCI ACWI Index, MSCI World Index and MSCI Emerging Markets (EM) Index, all of which cover large- and mid-cap stocks in their respective regions. Companies with comprehensive DEI programs did, however, have slightly higher representation of women in executive-manager roles overall, as shown in the exhibit below.


Representation of women among all employees

Representation of women among all employees

This chart includes constituents of the MSCI ACWI Index, MSCI World Index and MSCI EM Index, as of Jan. 31, 2022. Forty-four companies that have either been newly added to MSCI ESG Ratings coverage or where data concerning workforce diversity programs is yet to be collected have not been considered. Given that this assessment was aimed at identifying the number of women CEOs and CFOs, we only accounted for CEOs and CFOs identified as women according to the issuers’ disclosures. As a result, the remaining CEOs and CFOs include both male CEOs and CFOs, as well as CEOs and CFOs whose gender had not been disclosed or where no information concerning the CEO or CFO was available. For companies with co-CEOs, both CEOs were considered. Source: MSCI ESG Research LLC

When we look at boards, however, companies with comprehensive DEI programs, on average, had better gender diversity than other companies. Among companies with comprehensive DEI programs, the percentage of boards with at least 30% women directors2 was higher and the percentage of boards with zero women directors was lower. These results suggest that companies attempting to improve the representation of women through their DEI programs may have been more focused on their boards of directors, and less on the company as a whole, perhaps in response to quotas already imposed on boards in various markets.3


Representation of women on boards of directors

Representation of women on boards of directors

Universe comprises constituents of the MSCI ACWI Index, MSCI World Index and MSCI EM Index, as of Jan. 31, 2022. This analysis includes members of unitary boards of directors, as well as supervisory-board members under a dual-board structure. Source: MSCI ESG Research LLC

Our study measured the effectiveness of DEI policies at improving gender diversity, including the percentage of women holding board seats, executive offices and workforce jobs generally. To do so, we divided them into two groups: companies that had established comprehensive DEI programs, including programs that provide significant benefits to facilitate DEI or that have set quantitative diversity targets in their recruitment processes; and those where there was no evidence of such programs, including companies that provided only general statements on their plans to improve workforce diversity.


Disclosure gaps

We found significant gaps in data disclosure across both groups of companies. These gaps can hinder investors’ ability to properly assess a company’s overall diversity and the effectiveness of its DEI programs. In fact, the percentage of organizations that did not disclose such data tended to be higher among those companies that lacked comprehensive DEI programs — which suggests that comprehensive DEI programs may encourage better data transparency.


Disclosure of women’s representation among executives and overall workforce

    Companies with Comprehensive DEI Programs Companies without Comprehensive DEI Programs
MSCI ACWI Index Executive Management 81.3% 71.1%
  Workforce 72.6% 50.5%
MSCI World Index Executive Management 87.5% 88.2%
  Workforce 73.0% 56.3%
MSCI EM Index Executive Management 64.3% 60.4%
  Workforce 71.6% 46.8%


Closing the gap

Women remain underrepresented in the workforce at many companies — particularly in the critical leadership roles of CEO and CFO. Comprehensive DEI policies alone have been unable to move the needle on gender diversity in the workforce, although they may have helped (for better or worse) focus companies on improving board diversity. Diversity-conscious investors may want to shift their attention away from DEI policies and instead look to actual results throughout the workforce, but their ability to monitor, engage with and hold companies accountable will likely be hindered by the gap on workforce gender-diversity data.



1Orowitz. Hannah, Rosati, Brigid, and Kumar, Rajeev. “2021 Annual Corporate Governance Review.” Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance, Nov. 24, 2021.

2MSCI uses the threshold of 30% women directors as part of its regular assessment of board-level gender diversity.

3Milhomem, Christina. Women on Boards 2021 Progress Report. November 2021. MSCI ESG Research



Further Reading

Nasdaq’s New Board Diversity Rules: What’s the Impact?

Why We’re Still Talking About Women on Boards

Race & Ethnicity Disclosure: US Companies’ Rocky Start for US Companies

Women on Boards: The Hidden Environmental Connection?

What innovative companies and women on boards have in common

The Tipping Point: Women on Boards and Financial Performance