Interest in gender diversity in boardrooms and C-suites has been increasing over the last 12-18 months. In that time, many commentators have expounded the virtues of having women alongside men on Boards and in C-suites, in both the academic and practitioner literature. Lobby groups have been established and conferences convened, with good effect.
While such efforts are laudable, the suggestion that the presence of women (on Boards) leads to increased company performance—as has been asserted in the rhetoric—is a big call. I agree that a relationship appears to exist, however I am yet to see any robust evidence that supports the assertion that the presence of women on boards per se improves company performance.
Before you launch volleys in my direction, please read on. Governance is a complex, open system, and many inputs affect the operation of Boards and the outputs they produce. A single-minded focus on one structural variable—as has been the case with gender—is far too simplistic. Rather, attention needs to move away from bidding up the percentage of seats occupied by women (and expecting performance will reliably improve as a result), towards the holistic consideration of governance as a system, and to the causative factors that affect performance. Preliminary research efforts suggest that behavioural factors; high levels of engagement; vigorous debate; an involvement in the development of strategy; and, the making of strategic decisions, are far more likely casual mechanisms than gender or any other structural variable.
So, to my question. What is the real objective of placing women on Boards? Participation or performance? If it's the latter (and I hope it is), then the focus needs to move beyond counting the number of women around the table, to discovering what Boards actually do as they go about their work, and to how that contributes to performance (or not).
Thoughts on corporate purpose, strategy and governance; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.