Trends in the Governance of France’s Listed Companies

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min Report
September 29, 2023
4 min
Industry TrendsSustainability OfficersBoard and CEO AdvisoryBoard of DirectorsDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion AdvisoryBoard Director and Chair Search
Key findings from our recent analysis into the boards of directors in CAC 40 and SBF 120 companies.


Gender equality, corporate social responsibility (CSR), and younger, more international CEOs—the governance of SBF 120 and CAC 40 companies is evolving to reflect wider society.


Acceleration Toward Gender Parity

Rixain law has an impact

The “Rixain law,” which requires companies with more than 1,000 employees to have women in 40% of senior management positions by March 2031, is having an impact. More than 80% of SBF 120 companies have formalized a Rixain objective in their universal registration document, and 63% indicate they want to achieve this objective before 2026.

However, two-thirds of companies haven’t defined what their governing bodies represent.


Firms take different approaches to bringing women to their executive committees

In 10 years, the share of women on CAC 40 executive committees has increased from 8% to 28%. And out of 198 appointments to SBF 120 executive committees in 2022-2023, 42% were women.

This progress toward gender parity is coming through different approaches. AXA, for example, has increased the size of its executive committee and now women hold 38% of the roles. Worldline, meanwhile, has looked to external recruitment to increase the proportion of women from 18% to 33% in just one year.

But equality isn’t equally distributed across executive committees. While women hold 43% of functional positions, they only hold 15% of operational roles. And it doesn’t look like the situation is going to change any time soon as just 21% of new operational appointments were women in the last year.


Percentage of women in executive committees in Europe

Graph 5


Fewer women appointed to CEO roles

Since mid 2022, SBF 120 companies appointed 13 new CEOs, including only one woman—Hinda Gharbi of Bureau Veritas. This is a decline from the previous year, which saw two women among 16 new CEOs.


French boards most gender diverse in Europe

There are now 14 SBF 120 boards that are majority women, up from nine the previous year. Across the CAC 40, board committees have reached parity, with 50% of committee chairs and 50% of committee members being women.

Overall, 46% of CAC 40 board members are women. This means France has the most gender-diverse boards in Europe, sitting above the United Kingdom (42% women), Germany (38%), and Switzerland (35%).

The fuel driving this trend is the European Women on Boards Directive. It requires companies listed on the stock exchanges of the 27 EU member countries to have women in at least 40% of non-executive director positions or 33% of all board roles by June 2026.


Representation of women on the boards of selected European indices

Graph 1



CSR A Major Board Issue

Continued growth of committees dedicated to CSR

CSR continues to be a major concern within SBF 120 boards. Now, 70% of SBF 120 excluding CAC 40 companies have a committee dealing with CSR, up from 45% in 2019. And 33% of all SBF 120 companies have a committee dedicated exclusively to CSR.

Among the CAC 40, the desire is even clearer—90% of companies have a committee dealing with CSR issues, compared to 75% in 2019.

This puts France well ahead of its European counterparts. Only 45% of companies on Switzerland’s SMI and 37% of those on Spain’s IBEX 35 and IGBM 85 have CSR-focused committees.


Women leading on CSR

Women dominate CSR committees, making up 75% of members. And they’re even more prominent in CSR committee chair seats, where they make up 93%. In total, of the 15 CAC 40 committees dedicated solely to CSR, women chair 14.


CEOs Are Younger and More International

Shorter CEO tenure

CEOs in the SBF 120 aren’t staying in their positions as long as before. On average, they’re leaving after 7.5 years, compared to almost 10 years in 2019.

Their average age at departure is also dropping and now sits at less than 60 years old.


Seniority as CEO at time of departure, in years

Graph 2


Age of CEOs at departure

Graph 2


Internal appointments fall sharply

In 2022, only 38% of succession plans resulted in the appointment of a new CEO from within, compared to 50% in 2021 and 85% in 2018. This increase in external appointments corresponds with an increase in international CEOs. Now, 22% hold a non-French passport, up three percentage points from the previous year.

At the same time, the number of outgoing CEOs remaining as board chairs has fallen from 66% to 50%. However, this is a return to levels we saw before the emergence of Covid-19.


Decline in the number of CEOs coming from within*

Graph 3.1

*More than two years of experience in the company before being appointed CEO. 


31% of new CEOs had previously been CEOs in a listed company

Graph 3.2


Grandes Écoles less prominent in CEO profiles

In the SBF 120 (excluding CAC), there are more CEOs who have gone through university. Among the CAC 40, many CEOs are now coming from different prestigious schools—more come from a major engineering school (excluding École Polytechnique), and fewer come from Sciences Po or ENA.


Board Independence Down Slightly

The trend towards the dissociation of the roles of CEO and Chairs seems to be slowing

After years of witnessing an increasing number of companies opting for separation of the offices of the CEO and the chair, we are seeing a slowing of this trend. Now, 32% of CAC 40 CEOs are also the chair, compared to 28% in the previous year. And among the SBF 120 excluding CAC, the figure climbed only slightly from 30% to 31%.


Independent directorships maintained

The proportion of independent directors remains stable at 69%. And 56% of them are women, compared to 55% a year earlier.

Across all sectors, most directors are independent. But leading the way are the industrial sector (71.2%), the technology, media, and telecoms sector (71%), the financial sector (70.9%), and the healthcare sector (70.6%).

The least independent boards are in the mass distribution and luxury goods sector (59%). But the proportion of family-owned businesses in the sector would explain this difference.

More broadly, 96% of directors respected the limit of four directorships of listed companies, with 36% holding a single mandate.


Foreign Directors Return and Remuneration Increases

More international profiles

Within the CAC 40, nearly 60% of directors have a foreign passport. This figure reflects the end of the “Covid parenthesis,” which saw a drastic drop in the number of non-French directors. Some companies, such as Airbus Groupe, ArcelorMittal, and Schneider Electric have more than 65% foreign directors on their boards.

Across the SBF 120, 20% of directors, if not French, are European, with 5% being American.


Director remuneration lags behind other European countries

The gap between the remuneration of CAC 40 directors and that of other SBF 120 directors is widening. The average remuneration at the SBF 120 (excluding CAC) is €58,400 per year, up from €54,300 in 2021 and €52,600 in 2020. That compares to €98,800 per year at the CAC 40 (€90,200 in 2021; €86,700 in 2020).

Despite this increase, the gap to other European countries is also widening. For example, the average pay for Swiss and UK directors is €287,000 and €173,000, respectively.


Average remuneration of board directors in Europe

Graph 4



  • Florence Ferraton, heads the firm’s operations in France and is a member of the Consumer Sector, she is based in Paris.
  • Paul Jaeger, leads the Financial Services Sector in France and co-leads the Real Estate Practice in Europe, he is based in Paris.
  • Marc Sanglé-Ferrière, is a leader in the firm's Board & CEO Advisory Partners practice in Europe, he is based in Paris.


*Data sources are public documents including 2022 Universal Registration Documents, reports from 2023 General Assemblies, internet sites of SBF 120 companies