News Column

Men, Women on Corporate Boards Split on Diversity

Oct. 5, 2012

Joyce Gannon

Businesswoman in suit

Men and women who serve on corporate boards of directors worldwide frequently agree on political and economic issues that impact business but they have widely divergent ideas on how to improve diversity in their own board rooms.

Those are among the findings of a survey that polled more than 1,000 directors on issues ranging from environmental regulations to diversity quotas.

The survey was conducted from April through June by researchers at the Harvard Business School, executive search and consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles, and networking organization WomenCorporateDirectors. Those surveyed included 1,067 corporate directors from 58 countries.

"There's significant disagreement between men and women on issues related to diversity on boards," said Boris Groysberg, professor of business administration at Harvard and one of the participants in a Thursday teleconference to discuss the survey results.

"For men, board leadership is tied with the pipeline explanation," which tracks a lack of women on boards to mentoring and advocating for females in executive positions, he said.

But many women board members believe board chairs and board nominating committees should be more proactive in suggesting that women serve as directors, said Mr. Groysberg.

According to the survey, 45 percent of men believe "a lack of women in executive ranks" is a top reason why the number of women on boards isn't growing.

Among women surveyed, only 18 percent traced the lack of women on boards to having few females in top executive positions. The consensus among women, Mr. Groysberg said, is that board leaders should be responsible for placing more women on boards.

An annual study by Catalyst, a nonprofit that promotes women in business, said that in 2011, women held 16.1 percent of the boards seats at Fortune 500 companies and 14.1 percent of all executive officer jobs in the Fortune 500.

"For many board members, having diverse boards is not a priority," said Mr. Groysberg.

According to the survey, 46 percent of U.S. directors and 57 percent of directors outside the U.S. did not believe having a diverse board was a top issue. Asked if their boards had adopted measures to advance diversity, 47 percent of U.S. respondents and 35 percent of non-U.S. respondents said they had.

"Boards continue to struggle with diversity and our year-to-year findings have, unfortunately, not shown boards making progress in this area," said Deborah Bell, a researcher of organizational behavior at Harvard who worked on the study.

Asked if mandatory quotas would be effective in getting more women on their boards, 25 percent of the male survey respondents said yes while 51 percent of the women agreed quotas could help.

Many women in director positions attended the same schools or have similar backgrounds as the men who nominate them, said Ms. Bell. "For others, it takes a lot longer because they're not part of the network."

Source: (c)2012 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Distributed by MCT Information Services

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