The topic of gender diversity on boards has received a lot attention in recent years. Researchers, interest groups and the media have chased various agendas. Much has been written and many claims have been made. However, compelling conclusions remain elusive. The topic received more attention during the first session of the second day of the International Governance Workshop in Barcelona.
Three speakers presented the results of their research, conducted in the Polish and Spanish contexts. The studies explored variations on the theme of the impact of women on various financial and non-financial measures. All of the studies were quantitative analyses, conducted using publicly available data and statistical techniques. I have been critical of the use of such techniques for social research in the past. Reductivist approaches rarely provide insight beyond straightforward correlations. Sadly, I heard nothing to suggest otherwise in these talks.
The challenge for board research is to move beyond the 'big three' assumptions--ontological reductionism, that a single objective reality might exist, and that a constant conjunction between variables constitutes a causal explanation—are inapplicable to board research, because boards and the context within which they exist, companies, are social constructions. Rather, the more demanding route, of qualitative research that explores boards in situ is more likely to reveal explanations that shareholders and director nomination committees can rely on.
I remain convinced that women and people from a diverse range of background affect board practice. However, simple empirical research is not the appropriate pathway to understand and explain whether this is correct is not. More subtle approaches, that consider the context and behavioural nuances of individual directors appears to be crucial.
Thoughts on corporate purpose, strategy and governance; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.