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Female representation on the boards of European banks is increasing, but the gender balance of senior management is still lagging, DBRS Morningstar says.

In a new report, the rating agency said gender diversity continues to improve at the board level, with 38% of board seats held by women. At the senior executive level, however, women remain “significantly underrepresented” with just 23% of C-suite roles, including just 6.4% of CEOs.

DBRS found the Nordic countries led the way with 49% of bank board seats in Sweden held by women, followed by 45% and 44% in Finland and Norway, respectively.

Additionally, it noted that 22% of the overall sample have at least 50% female representation.

DBRS noted that several European countries have adopted quotas for board representation, and the European Union implemented rules last year that require big companies to have at least one-third gender diverse directors by mid-2026.

“Most of the banks that do not meet the upcoming EU threshold are in Greece, Italy, Germany and Spain,” it said, adding that Spain and Italy have both recently passed national quotas requiring companies to have at least 40% female representation at board level by 2024 and 2026, respectively.

These kinds of quotas could be expanded to senior executive positions, given that gender diversity at that level has barely improved in recent years, it suggested.

“Only 14 banks in our sample had 30% or more women in their top executive group; this drops to five banks when the threshold is increased to 40%,” it said, and nine banks had no female representation in their senior ranks.

“This raises the question as to whether gender quotas should focus more on boosting female participation at the executive level instead of focusing on board representation.”

One of the arguments in favour of board quotas is that they’re expected to improve female representation at all levels of management, DBRS said.

“Our analysis shows a positive correlation between higher gender diversity at the board level and executive level, suggesting that a higher share of women at the board level has a positive, although a rather slow, effect on the number of women in senior roles,” said Charlotte Cervin, senior analyst, European financial institutions at DBRS Morningstar, in a release.