What is it with the women on boards and diversity discourse?
These topics, both arguably proxies for the on-going fight for a more equal society, have been the subjects of much research and discussion over the last decade or more. Claims and counter-claims have been asserted—sometimes quite stridently—in both the popular press and in the academic literature. While many commentators have asserted that the presence of women in boardrooms, or diversity amongst directors is causal to increased company performance (and others have jumped on the bandwagon), a small number of bold souls have questioned the analysis, recognising that any linkage is complex and likely to be contextual.
Now, Caroline Turner, a leading commentator appears to have called time on the rather simplistic assertions that have dominated the discourse (click here to read her recent article). Her response to the question of whether gender diversity is good, bad or indifferent is "It depends on which study you read". I agree. Importantly, Turner's conclusion (that "solid research by highly respected organizations, disputed by some, shows a correlation between gender diversity and results") and appeal (for more research) signals a much needed maturing of the rhetoric.
Researchers, consultants and commentators need to build on Turner's comments. If we are to understand how boards work, and how influence is exerted, boards need to be observed in action. Sophisticated analyses, capable of exposing factors that may not be directly observable or consistently applicable, are also required. The resolution of the problem (of explaining how boards influence business performance) is more likely to be found in the subtleties of director qualities and behaviours, and the complexities of how they work together, than in any regular correlation between an observable attribute and subsequent business performance.
Thank you Caroline Turner for recognising this, and for advancing the conversation.
Thanks for joining in the call for a balanced and full study of the impact of gender diversity. I love the studies that show a correlation with better financial metrics -- but remain open to studies that question the causal relation. Let's keep the discussion going!
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Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and boardcraft; our place in the world; and other topics that catch my attention.