The debate surrounding the benefit of women on boards is starting to heat up. Eight days ago, NZX announced it's decision to require gender diversity reporting for all publicly listed boards. Yesterday, an article by Richard Baker asserted that "gender diversity is not essential to the good running of major companies". Today, Denis Mowbray challenged the NZX proposal. He said it is "intellectually lazy" to isolate a single characteristic (like gender).
I agree with Baker and Mowbray. Governance is a socially dynamic phenomenon, with many variables and much complexity. Numerous researchers and practitioners have investigated structural and composition factors over many years. More recently, world-class governance researchers, including Leblanc, Huse and Nicholson, have investigated behavioural and process factors. To date, the research findings have been inconclusive, and causality with performance is yet to be established.
Despite flights of fancy from some commentators, slow progress by researchers, and much frustration all round, the search for a link between governance and company performance is of enormous practical importance. Therefore, efforts to understand the mechanisms within the governance phenomena, and any relationship with company performance, must continue. However, the research agenda much be changed. Attention must move away from consideration of individual characteristics—toward a holistic consideration of governance—if further insights are to be gained and any clear understanding is to be achieved.
My doctoral research efforts attempt to build on Leblanc and Nicholson's work. I plan to use a longitudinal multiple-case study approach (to understand the processes, behaviours and dynamic interactions within the governance system) to focus on the way Boards make decisions. Strategic decision-making has been postulated to be an important factor in the governance–performance relationship. If this is correct, a link between a strategic decisions and subsequent improved company performance should be apparent, after some longitudinal delay. The challenge will be to determine whether or not strategic decision-making can be attributed to the Board.
So where does this leave us? I certainly don't have any silver bullets, and progress is likely to be frustratingly slow. Boardroom diversity is important, however I suspect a focus on decision-making and related factors will reveal more about board performance than arguments about the number of women at the board table. Let's push on.
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Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and the craft of board work; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.