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RESEARCH BRIEF: Women board members defy gender roles


Takeaway: As more and more countries mandate board diversity, firms worldwide are eager to learn what impact increased board diversity will have on company operations. Increased boardroom gender diversity can transform a firm’s decision-making process, but not in stereotypically feminine ways. Female board members may be more stakeholder-oriented than males, but they are also dynamic leaders more open to risk and less beholden to tradition. 

Suggested Audience: Executives, board members, investors

A recent study provides new insight into two issues that have long been of concern to both business and society: gender diversity and the workplace mobility of women. Many commentators have expressed concern about the “glass ceiling” said to prevent women from reaching top management positions, while others have claimed that women must behave like men in order to obtain firm directorships.

Researchers polled Sweden’s entire population of CEOs and directors of publicly traded firms in order to determine their attitudes, priorities, and perspectives towards risk. Sweden is ranked first in the world for gender equality. It is one of the globe’s most developed economies, demographically and culturally comparable to both the US and other European countries, which suggests that the results of the research are widely applicable.

The responses indicate that even at the top women and men are significantly different in terms of values and risk attitudes. Male directors care more about achievement and power than female directors, and less about universalism and benevolence. This is consistent with prior literature (e.g., Schwartz and Rubel 2005), which has found that across cultures men consistently attribute more importance to self-enhancement values (achievement and power), whereas women emphasize self-transcendence values (universalism and benevolence). However, in contrast to the broad patterns documented for different cultures, female directors are less security- and tradition-oriented and care more about stimulation than male directors.  The study also found that women in the boardroom are slightly more risk loving than their male counterparts, suggesting that women directors are not as fiscally conservative as stereotypes suggest. In the boardroom, it seems, many gender roles go out the window.

Keywords: corporate governance, gender roles, female director, risk, tradition, stakeholder-orientation 

If citing, please refer to original article: “Beyond the glass ceiling: does gender matter?”, Manaement Science, February 2012, Renée B. Adams, University of New South Wales, Australia, and Patricia Funk, Universitat Pompeu Fabra and Barcelona Graduate School of Economics, Spain

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